State Rep. Matt Gabler, R-Elk/Clearfield, was sworn in for his second term representing the 75th Legislative District in the state House at a ceremony held at the Capitol Tuesday.
Gabler, who was re-elected by a significant majority in the November election, said he will continue to focus on fiscal accountability and smart government spending as legislative priorities during his sophomore term.
"What I think is that there's an opportunity to use the money we have more efficiently," Gabler said. "It's got to be a question of priorities."
Gabler said he remains strong in his belief that government is not there to provide all the bells and whistles, but rather, what he calls "core functions."
"This is what government does. This is what it's here for," Gabler said.
According to Gabler, lawmakers will be focusing on finances as soon as they return to Harrisburg for the beginning of the 2011-12 legislative session Jan. 18.
"The biggest thing staring us in the face these first six months is a budget deficit projected between $3 and $5 billion," Gabler said. "All of the legislative leaders in Harrisburg have really put a priority on balancing the budget without raising taxes."
He attributed the budget deficit to several factors, including a spike in pension obligations for state and other retirees and the dry-up of federal stimulus funding, which had helped to fill budget gaps over the past few years.
"That's going to be the major focus," Gabler said of crafting a reasonable budget. "How do the decisions we make affect the economy, employment, jobs?
"The budget needs to be a place where we put line item by line item what our priorities need to be."
Repairing the state's aging infrastructure, which includes not only roads and bridges but also sewer and water systems, is another challenge the commonwealth must address, and one that also affects state budget expenditures. Gabler noted that a "day-by-day, breaking-even" mentality and lack of long-term planning in past legislatures contributed to the current situation.
"We've got to take care of it now, and we've got to plan ahead so that we're not in the same boat 50 years from now," he said.
Although he stressed the importance of dealing with infrastructure on both a long-term and short-term basis, Gabler cautioned that it is important to find the money to fix these items with funds or revenue streams already available instead of incurring new debt.
"Can we think of ways to achieve our goals without immediately going for more revenue?" Gabler said. "There are ways to look at accountability."
During his second term in Harrisburg, Gabler said he intends to continue focusing on improving conditions for economic development. According to the lawmaker, Pennsylvania has one of the highest debt levels and highest tax burdens per capita in the nation. He emphasized the need to keep taxes in line to improve both the quality of life for commonwealth residents and the climate for businesses.
"We need to do things that are sustainable, that are not going to sacrifice our competitiveness to surrounding states," Gabler said.
One action he believes would help make the state more economically competitive is to diversify industries, particularly in the region he represents.
"Powder metal has taken a huge hit because of the problems in the auto industry. Sylvania has taken a hit because of the federal legislation dealing with light bulbs. We just want to make sure we don't have all of our eggs in one basket," Gabler said.
He said that while the development of the Marcellus Shale natural gas formation provides its own challenges, it also represents an opportunity for economic growth in many areas, from the drilling operations themselves to auxiliary businesses and industries, and will play a role in the diversification of industry necessary to sustain economic development in both the commonwealth and the 75th Legislative District.
"Gas development can mean many things. There is an opportunity to bring jobs, economic development and industry to this area. I think we need to try to look at how it all factors into a bigger picture to make sure our economy isn't one-faceted," Gabler said.
He acknowledged the challenges ahead in balancing the development of the Marcellus Shale while preserving the integrity of the environment and the natural beauty of the region that people are so proud of.
"It's a conversation we can't shy away from. That's something we need to do our homework on," he said.
Gabler said during his second term, he will continue his focus on providing excellent constituent service and being available to residents of Elk and Clearfield counties.
For more on this story, see the Jan. 5 edition of The Daily Press.