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Sen. Scott Wagner caught statewide attention after his special election win, becoming Pennsylvania's first-ever write-in candidate to take a Senate seat.

But the historic victory only guaranteed him the gig through the end of the current session, and Wagner must win election if he wants to hold the seat for a full four-year term starting next year.

A first-time elected official, Wagner faces competition from another York County political newcomer, Windsor Township veterans' rights worker Zack Hearn, in the May 20 Republican primary.

Democrat Linda Small will appear unopposed on the Democratic ballot which, barring another successful write-in campaign, guarantees her a position on the ballot for the Nov. 4 general election.

The winner of the Republican primary, either Wagner or Hearn, will appear on the Republican ballot in November.

Policy experience: Hearn, 37, works in Washington, D.C., as the American Legion's deputy director for claims.

While many of his policy positions are similar to those of his opponent, Hearn said he can be distinguished by a different philosophical approach to governing, as well as his years of policy-related experience.


"I think it comes down to the idea that, when representing a group of people, do you want somebody who has advocated for people from all different socioeconomic groups ... or do you want someone with only a business background?" Hearn asked.

He said he doesn't want to minimize Wagner's success as owner of Penn Waste trash hauling, but he thinks there's a "large difference" between public administration and business administration.

Businesses advocate for the advancement of their own business interests, while public administration requires a broader knowledge of how policy will affect all people, their constituents, Hearn said.

He said his work advocating for 21 million veterans nationwide, testifying about bills and helping to craft and implement legislation, has helped him examine political intricacies and the broader scope.

Property taxes: Hearn said he heartily agrees in the need to control property taxes and believes "in the theory" of Senate Bill 76, which would eliminate property taxes. But he said he fears its implementation could be "wholly flawed," falling short on sources of revenue.

Pennsylvania doesn't tax dividends and pensions, and there's a large bubble of people nearing retirement age in the state, he said. That means those people, after retiring, will no longer be paying an increased earned income tax toward the elimination of property taxes.

"If you go down that path (to SB 76), all of a sudden there will be a shortage of revenue," he said. "I have a lot of questions I want to have answered before I support it."

Hearn said he's willing to consider a severance tax on natural gas drilling wells to fund education, but only if there's a corresponding corporate tax cut.

He said he's also in favor of right-to-work legislation, giving employees the right to choose whether they enter a union, and reform of prevailing wage legislation. Prevailing wage means government entities must pay a rate that's often more expensive than rates in a local area, for example, on publicly funded projects such as building construction.

"School districts are hampered because they have to pay a prevailing wage, and the next day the (workers) go to a non-government project where they're paid less," Hearn said. "There's something inherently wrong with that and it's coming on the backs of the taxpayers."

Different strategy: Wagner is also in favor of prevailing wage reform, right-to-work reform, and property tax elimination, but he has a bolder strategy toward policy implementation. While the state's Independent Fiscal Office projected a revenue shortfall if the bill were passed, Wagner said legislators need to pass the bill and work out the details later.

"(SB 76) is not a perfect solution, but it gets us 70 to 80 percent of where we need to be," he said. "In the private sector, the worst thing you can do is become paralyzed by analyzing something. You get analysis paralysis. You talk and talk, and then you need to move onto something and get it through and then find the areas that need to be tweaked."

Talking about things too much is why "nothing ever gets done" in Harrisburg, he said.

And while Hearn said cited his public-sector experience as an attribute, Wagner said his opponent's lack of private-sector business experience would be a detriment.

"I have 35 years of private-sector business experience," he said. "I have been in Harrisburg for six weeks. If I was 36 or 37 years old ... and went to Harrisburg, guys like that get sucked into the system. I'm not getting sucked into the system. They become stagnant. They have nothing to bring to the table because they have no real-world experience."

Property taxes: Under Senate Bill 76, the state sales tax would increase from 6 to 7 percent, and numerous items that currently aren't taxed would no longer be exempt.

Wagner said he completed an analysis using his business, Penn Waste, and found the business would pay more per year in taxes if the bill were passed.

His company spends $65,000 per year in property taxes on four parcels, but it would spend about $95,000 per year in extra sales tax, he said, adding that it doesn't bother him because at least property taxes would be shifted away from retirees and others who can't afford them.

Wagner is a member, supporter and endorsee of Citizens Alliance Pennsylvania, which wants to replace "career politicians" with business-friendly legislators who sign a pledge saying they won't take a state pension or perks. He said he would limit himself to two terms, not counting the current term.

Hearn has taken the same vow, and said he would limit himself to three terms.

— Reach Christina Kauffman at ckauffman@yorkdispatch.com.