Maxwell puts focus on educational opportunities

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74th district candidate wants better funding, better ideas for students

By Mike McGann, Editor, The Times


Josh Maxwell

When you ask Josh Maxwell why, for a second time, he’s decided to run for State Representative, it comes down to a couple of words: public education.

The Downingtown native is among two Democrats — he is running against Caln Commissioner Joshua Young — seeking the nomination Tuesday for the new 74th District house seat. A product of Downingtown High School and West Chester University, Maxwell he wants his legacy to be that every child in the commonwealth gets the same opportunity for education.

“I think Democrats need to get progressive on education, we need to find was to tangibly improve public schools,” said Maxwell, now in his second term as Mayor of Downingtown. “We need to understand that students who come from different economic backgrounds may have different needs, they may need different types of teaching methods, different types of attention.”

And while he is clear in saying that not enough is spent on education, especially by the state, he also allows that just spending money doesn’t guarantee a good education. He said he thinks it will take innovation and a willingness to try new things, including the use of technology, to improve education. Still, though, in too many places with crumbling buildings and demoralized teaching staffs, money makes a difference.

“I want to make sure we make public education a higher priority, to make sure we’re funding public education first and some other projects, specifically some the Republicans have right now, either not at all or last,” he said.

And while he has a lot to say about various issues from education to pensions, one incident still clouds and complicates, his run for office. He was arrested and charged with driving while intoxicated, returning from celebrating with friends on Aug. 20, 2011 in West Bradford.

Complicating matters, Young was a passenger in the car when he was stopped, Maxwell said. Further complicating the matter is the fact that the night started for both of them at a birthday celebration for the now-wife of Young’s campaign manager, Adam Thomas.

Maxwell and Young — who previously served as a campaign chair for Maxwell — have gone from close friends to bitter rivals in recent years and have been trading barbs and nasty campaign mailers in recent weeks.

Maxwell was ultimately accepted into and completed the Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition program (ARD). Using ARD, participants can clear their criminal record upon completion of court-imposed conditions, such as as community service and treatment programs. The issue did not appear to hurt him politically — he remained strongly competitive in a 2012 race for State Representative in the 155th district (where Downingtown was before redistricting took effect for this election) and was reelected as mayor last year.

Still, he acknowledges the mistake.

“The biggest mistake of my life was driving him (Young) home,” Maxwell said.

Moving onto less personal issues, Maxwell bubbles with ideas for improving the state — not surprising for someone just short of a Masters in Public Administration from the University of Pennsylvania.

He said he’d like to see school funding become less dependent on property taxes, because the current system is unsustainable.

“Property taxes are a horrible way to fund something like education because it is so expensive,” Maxwell said. “It is such a large undertaking and you’re relying on a tax that isn’t progressive. It doesn’t always work with economic shifts — so you go through a housing downturn and you have tax parcels reassessing, districts losing money and teachers being laid off, so the kids at the low end of the totem pole who end up in a bad situation.”

He said he favors a mix of sales taxes, earned income and some real estate taxes to provide a more balanced funding base for schools. He doesn’t think proposals such as Senate Bill 76, which would replace real estate taxes with boosted sales taxes, are workable.

On the pension issue, he said he doesn’t agree with calls to convert the current pension plan into a 401K-style system.

“Pensions are strong incentives for people to get into the teaching profession or the arresting bad guy profession and certainly don’t think teachers are anywhere near overpaid,” Maxwell said, noting that teacher salaries in some districts are far lower than others — and benefits are the only way for poorer districts to attract good people. “We want those types of sectors in our society to be able to recruit really fantastic people.”

He said he does think that the state should look closely at bonding the current pension liability as a way to save some money on the obligation.

Another piece of the puzzle for struggling districts, he said, is better economic development. He said he thinks the state wastes a lot of money on tax subsidies for industry, without them being targeted for areas that need redevelopment. He’d prefer to see incentives based on need — so that biggest incentives would go to areas with the biggest economic need, with lesser or even no incentives for more affluent areas.

“You want to do something where you’re encouraging economic activity in your struggling school districts,” he said. “You want to create commercial tax payers in those areas, because then you create long-term funding. Then, those struggling school districts don’t become such a burden on the state budget.”

In terms of the state budget itself, Maxwell said he supports an extraction tax for the Marcellus Shale — and argues for a 10% tax. He also wants to tax smokeless tobacco. Those two moves, he said could close the current budget gap by at least $500 million. He does admit that it’s more likely that the tax will end up being lower, in order to get enough votes to pass it in the legislature. He does think the next governor — Maxwell said he thinks it will be Democrat Tom Wolf — will sign the new tax into law next year.

On social hot button issues, Maxwell said he is pro-choice.

“I find it unappealing when men try and make policy on things they don’t understand on health care choices,” he said.

And he said he is strongly in favor of same-sex marriage rights. He said he finds much of the discussion — especially from those who oppose it — a pointless distraction from more pressing issues.

“We need to get this out of the way,” Maxwell said. “You can’t give rights to some people and not to others. I can’t guarantee that I have the right to get married when I want to, if you don’t have the same right. It’s something Democrats should run on and talk about a lot…it’s very popular with the middle, and its very popular with the right, especially the under-40 right.”

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