CLEARFIELD – State Rep. Tommy Sankey has lived the same real-life experiences as other people from Clearfield County. For him, these experiences ignited personal concerns about the future of Pennsylvania and the United States.
Sankey decided it was time to “get involved, offer new perspectives and be a breath of fresh air.” When former long-time State Rep. Camille “Bud” George announced he wouldn’t seek re-election to the 74th Legislative District, Sankey decided he wanted to take over that seat.
In last November’s election, Sankey prevailed over his Democratic opponent, Mark B. McCracken. He was sworn into office at the state Capital in Harrisburg at the beginning of this year to begin his first term in the 197th session of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives.
Sankey said it’s an honor for him to be the voice of his hometown at the state level. Upon taking office, he pursued ways to create transparency of the goings-on in Harrisburg, so that his constituents would be a better informed electorate.
In doing so, he started releasing regular newsletters and hosted town hall meetings and other public forums. For him, he said it was important to empower his constituents through open forums, where they could ask questions and get answers about any concern.
More recently, on Oct. 18, Sankey hosted a senior expo in Houtzdale. He said more than 120 people attended the expo, which featured 30-40 vendors from around the area. Sankey said it gave him an opportunity to speak with seniors and open doors for them to learn about available services.
On Nov. 20, Sankey will host an open house at his Clearfield office, located at 315 E. Market St., Clearfield. “I encourage anyone to walk in; the door is always open,” he said. “You don’t even have to be from Clearfield County; my door is open to any Pennsylvania resident.”
According to him, the toughest part of his job in Harrisburg is getting to the root and uncovering the truth. He said it’s his responsibility to educate himself and develop an understanding of the issues brought before him.
“It’s my duty to find the answers and communicate them with the people I serve,” he said.
But when getting issues addressed in Harrisburg, Sankey has realized it’s sometimes necessary to compromise. “You never get 100 percent of what you want,” he said. “It’s about giving a little and taking a little without compromising your core values.”
Sankey said he was proud to be a part of a state budget that was signed into law the night of June 30. The state budget, he said, supported essential services without incurring new debt or raising taxes. He said the state government was forced to live within its means just like many of his constituents do with their personal budgets. When the state budget was passed in June, Sankey commented, “It has been said by some of my House colleagues that we didn’t spend enough in certain areas of the budget.
“To the accusers, I simply ask you to take into account what state government does. It takes money from the paychecks of working people and gives it to people who, in some cases, choose not work. We, the members of the General Assembly, get paid out of someone else’s paycheck. To those who say, ‘we need more,’ I say ‘shame on you.’”
Pennsylvania’s pension problem continues to impact nearly every citizen. Funding decisions by past administrations have contributed to the current $41 billion unfunded liability of two public pension systems, the State Employee Retirement System (SERS) and the Public School Employees’ Retirement System (PSERS), said Sankey.
According to him, an absence of a resolution comes with a cost daily and in turn results in higher property taxes. Further, he said it incapacitates the ability to properly fund public education while also limiting the funding available to other important government programs.
When he gets presented with a proposal for consideration, Sankey said he wouldn’t support anything that adversely affects current retirees. “Promises are promises, and promises are kept,” he said. “We will continue to pay for the pension problem until there’s a resolution. But it’s time to stop finger-pointing and it’s time to stop kicking the can down the road.”
In recent weeks, Gov. Tom Corbett has urged the public to demand that their state officials take action on a Transportation bill. Without action Corbett has said Pennsylvanians will continue to see roadways worsen and bridges become more structurally deficient. Corbett has said without a transportation bill, it leaves the future of transit in question.
Regarding this issue, Sankey said infrastructure and improvements to structurally deficient bridges were certainly of importance. He said there have been many transportation plan proposals given consideration; however, he believed it was complicated to develop a transportation plan that would be fair with Pennsylvania being such a diverse state with rural areas, such as Clearfield County, and then more urban areas, such as Pittsburgh and Philadelphia.
Sankey said he supported getting Pennsylvania out of the business of selling alcohol. Pennsylvania and Utah, he said, are the only states that haven’t done so. “I feel for the people with jobs at the state Wines & Spirits stores. I really do,” said Sankey. “But we have to decide the core functions of government.”
Every year, he said the state’s budget is growing, and he doesn’t want to see growing taxes. He said the state government’s focus needs to be on other programs, such as those related to social and human services and law enforcement. Plus, he noted some Pennsylvania wines, such as Hershey’s Chocolate wine, cannot even be put on the shelves and must be purchased in Delaware and Maryland.
Liquor privatization hasn’t yet been finalized, said Sankey.
Pennsylvania is the fourth largest coal-producing state in the nation. Further, Pennsylvania is a leader in the energy field, as its abundance of coal allows it to be a major net exporter of electric power in the United States, said Sankey.
He said coal has developed a negative reputation from an environmental standpoint. However, he said Pennsylvania can produce its own energy as it relates to natural gas and to coal. In the upcoming-year, he plans to be a champion for these resources while still giving priority to the environment.
“We have to champion for these resources that we have here. We have to champion to put people to work and to grow our economy,” said Sankey.
In January, when the re-districting plan takes effect, Sankey said Clearfield County will not be the 74th Legislative District. Instead, he said it will be split with the 75th Legislative District under the leadership of State Rep. Matt Gabler of DuBois and his 73rd Legislative District. Sankey said he’ll then have constituents from southern Clearfield County and into parts of Cambria County.
With the re-districting plan, he said it will give him the opportunity to “go knocking on doors” to meet his new constituents. He said he was excited to introduce himself to them, as well as to open the door for them to express their concerns and to find out how he can help them meet their needs.
Sankey graduated from the Clearfield Area High School in 1999 and attended St. Francis University, where he earned a Bachelor’s degree in accounting. After working as an accountant, he went back to his family business, R&G Fabrication and Crane Service in Osceola Mills.
Sankey has been appointed to serve on the Commerce, Environmental Resources and Energy, Local Government and Children and Youth committees for the 2013-14 legislative session. He’s also active with the Clearfield Chamber of Commerce, the National Federation of Independent Businesses, the National Rifle Association, the Loyal Order of the Moose and many other fraternal organizations.
Anyone with questions can direct them by e-mail at TSankey@pahouseop.com or through his Facebook page. Sankey has district offices at 315 E. Market St., Suite 100, Clearfield PA 16830 and at 600 Lingle St., Suite 1, Osceola Mills, PA 16666. His Clearfield office can also be reached by phone at 814-765-0609 and his Osceola Mills office at 814-339-6546.