State Rep. Justin Simmons wants to make sure he doesn’t become a cautionary tale. The conservative Republican today unveiled two new campaign ads which seek to frame the debate about public education funding and GOP state budgets. His opponent is a public school teacher.
“I opposed the Harrisburg politicians when they proposed education cuts that went too deep. Today, we commit more state tax dollars to our schools than ever before,” says Simmons, narrating the ad.
“And I controlled spending to focus on our priorities, so that we don’t spend me, we spend wisely.”
The spot is running on WFMZ in rotation with an attack ad against Deely.
Simmons has been criticized heavily on the subject by opponent Kevin Deely, a 10th grade English teacher and president of the Easton Area School District teacher’s union. The Democrat is hoping to turn the race into a referendum on education funding.
“Rep. Simmons disingenuously boasts of actually increasing funding to Lehigh Valley schools. In reality, our schools are suffering from the drastic cuts made to public education since my opponent and Gov. Corbett took office,” Deely said at a recent press conference. His campaign issued a list of local school district funding.
“His cuts are directly responsible for the double digits increases in school property taxes. Make no mistake about it- by not funding our schools from the state side, your taxes are going up. It must stop.”
It’s a complicated question. Pa.’s K-12 schools saw a major reduction in funding from the budget passed in 2010 to the two Simmons voted for in 2011 and 2012. Most of the gap was caused by the expiration of federal stimulus funds and, as Simmons notes, the state actually increased its share.
However, critics say the claim by Republicans like Simmons is misleading: much of the state’s funding increase went to pension obligations, not the classroom. As a result, many school boards across Pa. have had to raise property taxes and limit programs.
The issue is one of Democrats’ key attacks against Republicans this cycle, and nowhere moreso than in the 131st, which includes part of the city of Allentown and other municipalities in Lehigh County. Simmons is a freshman; he unseated moderate Rep. Karen Beyer in the 2010 primary. PoliticsPA ranked this race as the 8th most likely to switch party control.
A second ad (below), not listed on Simmons’ campaign website but posted by the same YouTube account, blasts Deely as a radical out to waste tax dollars.
But there’s more. The ad’s visuals – a dollar bill burning along with several scenes of smoke – are indirect references to another issue that Republicans are keen to discuss: Deely’s alleged marijuana use during a 2009 conference.
“When it comes to fiscal liberal Kevin Deely, where there’s smoke, there’s fire,” an announcer says, before listing Deely’s activities as union president.
Here’s the background on the marijuana charge from the Express-Times report:
Three Easton Area School District teachers, including teacher’s union president Kevin Deely, were asked to leave an educational conference last month after a security officer said he found marijuana smoke in Deely’s room.
Deely, Joseph Parrish and Jeffrey Jacoby were investigated by police when a campus officer detected odors of marijuana coming from the Gettysburg College dorm room where Deely was staying during the Pennsylvania State Education Association conference, according to police and campus reports.