By Matt Snyder

Sharon Herald Staff Writer



3RD CONGRESSIONAL DISTRICT —



Four Erie Democrats fighting for the nod to run for Phil English’s 3rd Congressional District seat in November were fired up at a debate Saturday at Slippery Rock University.





But the candidates’ focus wasn’t on attacking one another. Moderator Richard Miller, Greenville’s mayor, called them different from each other by “shades of gray.” From the start, the candidates saved their barbs for English.



One of the first questions brought up the tolling of Interstate 80 and whether candidates supported it. Miller insisted candidates also explain how they would fund the road and bridge repairs that I-80 tolls are supposed to raise money for in Pennsylvania.



Candidates Tom Myers, 47, and Kathy Dahlkemper, 49, both favored a lease of the turnpike. Mike Waltner, 32, said he would back tolling I-80, but with an EZ Pass system that would give a break to Pennsylvania traffic. Nearly everyone pointed out that those decisions have to be made on the state level, not by a federal congressmen.



Erie County Councilman Kyle Foust, 39, said he would reform the use of the current federal gas tax so that money is divied up according to need and not a road’s length in miles to help ease transportation woes.



Foust attacked English on the issue, saying he feigned shock and surprise at the tolling plan after voting against a bill last year that would have fed money to state transportation.



Myers accused English of posturing on the issue and trying to get his “face in front of the camera,” but that “never once has he offered a solution.”



The pile-on against English continued through questions where the Democratic candidates opposed NAFTA free-trade agreements in their present form and advocated withdrawal from Iraq, with most supporting the war in Afghanistan.



Waltner and Mrs. Dahlkemper specified a 12-month withdrawal from Iraq to get all the troops and equipment out safely, and Mrs. Dahlkemper said it could start before the end of the next sitting president’s term.



Each candidate favored fixes to Social Security that wouldn’t require privatizing it, which they uniformly dismissed as too risky.



“Can you imagine what would have happened if we had Social Security invested in the sub-prime mortgage market?” Foust asked, gathering a chuckle from the crowd.



Resetting the cap on how much people pay into Social Security — basically increasing the amount paid by the wealthy — was an idea kicked around by the candidates.



Universal health care was on the lips of the Democrats, with Mrs. Dahlkemper adding that the focus should be on insuring all children first. Myers said he’d be willing to let a presumed Democratic president in 2008 lead the charge on the specifics.



Waltner, though, came out in strong support of a universal health care plan that would be partly funded through a 3 percent payroll tax. He said health care costs with most businesses averages about 7 percent of payroll and that there would be a 4 percent savings.



Waltner said Americans are afraid of socialized medicine, but he argued “this is civilized medicine. It works in Canada, it works in European countries.”

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