Friday, April 11, 2008

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette's 2008 Voter's Guide: Todd Elliott Koger For State Rep.

The following information is now listed on the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette's 2008 Voter's Guide.

Biographical Information

Home Municipality: Wilkinsburg
Current occupation: Science Teacher
Education/Degrees: Duquesne University School of Law 87-90; B.A. Cal U; A.S. CCAC
Experience/qualifications: Law Clerk; Allegheny County Planner; Wilkinsburg Civil Service Commission
Community Involvement: WTAE Gold Medal Award (Community Service)
Web Site:

Do you favor property tax reform, and if so, by what methods?

Todd Elliott Koger: HB 1275, The School Property Elmination Act, is still in the Appropriations Committee. On March 25, 2008, Joe Preston told the Post-Gazette Editorial Borad that he "wasn't aware of 1275 . . . ? " In the end, the taxpayers have again paid the price for the ridiculous political gamesmanship of this dysfunctional legislature. They promised tax relief in 2006, but only just offered tax rebates for the senior citizen voting block (for the primary election). We have a Democratic governor and House, if the Democratic leadership (Preston) would be willing to support HB 1275 it certainly could solve the problem.

Please state your views on privatizing the state liquor stores; expanding casino gambling beyond slot machines; and regulation of smoking in public places like restaurants and bars.

Todd Elliott Koger: Key lawmakers insist they are nearing a deal to snuff out more public smoking in Pennsylvania, but delayed voting on new indoor smoking limits. They want to attract enough votes to clear the Legislature while protecting children and workers from secondhand smoke. But the surgeon general's reports have stated there is no risk-free level of secondhand smoke.

The political gamesmanship here is similar to Mr. Preston's vote in favor of Act 201 in 2004, a utility-friendly bill that made it easier to cut off customers with delinquent bills -- even in the dead of winter. Just before each primary, Preston suggests that he wants to amend the utility bill.

We have been played by politicians year after year, and the rate of homicides among black males is alarming. The leadership (Preston) hasn't been there on property tax reform, the smoking ban, nor gun violence issue, I pledge change if elected. I want to inspire young black males to see "honest" change.

Do you support the state's current plan to raise money for highways and transit through higher turnpike tolls and tolling Interstate 80? If not, what alternative do you support?

Todd Elliott Koger: On October 13, 2006, Mr. Preston suggested the following to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette editorial board -- "Other transit systems have found a way to operate without Saturday service" -- as a response to $32.5 million deficit facing the Port Authority. Mr. Preston prefers Port Authority raising the base fare, cutting service and/or laying off employees, although he says he supports dedicated funding.

Likewise, most state regulators have taken a more active stance in blocking takeovers they view as potentially damaging to customers, i.e., the purchase of Duquesne Light, as well as the Pa. Turnpike and Interstate 80 (leasing) -- Macquarie's sweet spot as far as infrastructure investing.

And, although Dominion Gas made more than $5 billion in profits last year, Preston is sponsoring legislation to impose customer charges to help gas utilities bear the cost of replacing deteriorated lines.

Should the size of the Legislature be reduced? By how much?

Todd Elliott Koger: Rep. Matt Smith, a Democrat from Mt. Lebanon, and Randy Vulakovich, a Shaler Republican, have introduced a bill they say could save $66 million. That would make tax relief easier but, like most money-saving ideas in Harrisburg, it has slim chance of success.

We have the second-most-expensive statehouse in America. And as a percentage of the total state budget, no state spends more money on its lawmaking body than Pennsylvania. First among states in legislative spending as a percentage of general government spending (0.53 percent). Second in total legislative spending. Third in legislative spending per citizen, $23.01. Second in size of permanent legislative staff, 2,947. And, the walking-around money that leaders dole out, that account grows each year ($215 million a year ago.)

In the past 14 months, lawmakers introduced more than 3,500 bills, but only 118 laws were enacted and 39 of those were budget bills. I support the Smith and Vulakovich bill that will cut 20 percent of the total state budget.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Koger, Prater Holiday Makes Issue Preston's Utility-Friendly Bill

Chris Potter wrote the following article for the Pittsburgh City Paper on April 10, 2008.

Say what you want about state Rep. Joseph Preston, but you can't say he's been able to take his job for granted.

The 24th House District includes Wilkinsburg and some of the poorest neighborhoods in the East End, including Homewood, Lincoln-Larimer, Garfield and East Liberty. Not surprisingly, discontent with civic leadership often runs high, and while Preston has been in office for a quarter-century, he barely won re-election in 2006, edging out challenger Ed Gainey by fewer than 100 votes.

Preston was arguably saved by the presence of a third candidate, William Anderson, who peeled off more than 500 anti-incumbent votes. A similar split-the-opposition dynamic may take place this time around: Anderson is challenging Preston once again, and this time there are three challengers in the race. Preston also has superior financial resources: Even after spending more than $22,000 last year, his campaign still had more than $15,000 left over in the bank. His rivals -- Anderson, Lucille Prater-Holliday and Todd Eliot Koger -- had not reported any contributions as of press time.

To those who criticize the lack of progress in the district, Preston's response is, "These things take time."

While acknowledging struggles in his district, Preston points to the resurgence of development in long-dormant East Liberty as proof that that change is happening, however slowly. "Eight years ago we planted the seeds" for the East Liberty renewal, he told a crowd gathered at the Hill House for a Just Harvest candidate's forum on April 3. And he pledged to extend development into Larimer and Homewood. "It's about effectively doing it and not talking about it," he said, calling himself the "only local official who's never had a press conference."

But if Preston is shy about taking credit, few of his rivals are willing to give him any.

During his own presentation to the Just Harvest crowd, Anderson stressed a need to avoid gentrifying the neighborhood, seeking to preserve and improve the community for those who already live there. "Instead of tearing down our communities," he said, "vacant properties in our community could be job creators," especially for area youth. Anderson, who owns an automobile body shop in Homewood, also said he'd also seek to raise the state's minimum wage, and overhaul the school system.

Prater-Holliday, meanwhile, says she "doesn't intend to sit at a table and wait for a crumb, as our current representative does." She's campaigning on a reform platform to reduce the size of the legislature and prevent further legislative pay hikes.

Both Holliday and Koger have also made a campaign issue of Preston's vote in favor of Act 201 in 2006, a utility-friendly bill that made it easier to cut off customers with delinquent bills -- even in the dead of winter. (Preston has since sought to amend the utility bill and to wrest more heating-assistance money from the federal government to help low-income families pay their bills.) "I think Mr. Preston sold out to utility companies," Koger says, flatly.

Koger adds that voters "have been played by politicians year after year" on issues like property-tax reform and anti-gun measures. "The rate of homicides among black males is alarming," he says, but the legislature has done little to stop the problem. Koger believes some failed gun-control measures were unconstitutional anyway. "The leadership hasn't been there on the gun-violence issue," he says, pledging to change that if elected.

Both Anderson and Koger have delinquent taxes on properties they own, and Anderson has twice been convicted of drug charges. Still, in a race where Prater-Holliday speaks at length about her own financial troubles getting prescription drugs, such issues may not register as much. (Koger, for example, explains his tax debt by saying "I don't make $70,000 a year like Mr. Preston. I'm struggling barely above minimum wage.") Preston himself was charged with harassment by a former staffer last year; his conviction was overturned, but that hasn't stopped Prater-Holliday from listing "lawmakers who commit domestic violence and other crimes" as a public-safety issue on her campaign Web site.

And Preston is fighting fire with fire. During his own Just Harvest appearance, Preston began by asserting "I don't make sly remarks about others" -- and ended by slyly inviting constituents to drop by his house, "where the taxes are paid."

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Koger: He wants to "inspire the young black males to see honest change."

Rich Lord wrote the following on April 1, 2008, for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Mr. Koger . . .

He said he wants to win in part to "inspire the young black males to see honest change."

He'd start by pushing for "a constitutionally correct way" to track handguns. He said he wants to bring job-creating development -- but not the kind that is "further isolating the most needy" by hiding troubled neighborhoods behind pretty facades.

He has taught middle school science for the Duquesne City Schools since last year, and prior to that clerked in a law office. He attended the Duquesne University School of Law from 1987 through 1990 . . .

"I think I have experienced some of the things that the most needy have experienced."