PACB recently sat down with the first-term State Senator to discuss his views on Pennsylvania. We asked him three basic questions: “What motivated you to become a State Senator?”, “What are your thoughts on the current state of the Pennsylvania Legislature?” and “What do you hope to accomplish during your term in office?” His response to each was enlightening and engaging. It is clear that Senator Scott Wagner goes to work every day with the drive to become an agent of change.
My name is Scott Wagner and I am a first-term State Senator representing the 28th Senatorial District of Pennsylvania, which covers a large portion of York County. I was elected during a special election held in 2014 to fill the term of the late Mike Waugh. Most unique about my election is the fact that I was elected via a write-in campaign. I am the first State Senator in Pennsylvania ever to be elected via write-in.
Another thing that most of you will probably be interested to know about me is that I am a private sector business owner. I own a waste company that serves customers throughout Central Pennsylvania. My current waste company was started in 2000 with only 4 trucks and today operates with over 120 collection vehicles. I also own a trucking company, and have a majority interest in several other companies, including one based in Greenville, South Carolina. I am also a principal and investor in several dozen real estate partnerships. Today, my various operating companies employ almost 600 people, something that none of my colleagues in the Pennsylvania House or Senate can claim.
I started my first waste company in 1985 and I sold that company in 1997. I started that company the old fashioned way – I had an idea, so I went to work to make it a reality. I secured a loan from a small community bank to buy 2 new garbage trucks. I then went door-to-door soliciting commercial customers for my new waste company. My routine was to wake up at 3am every morning, go pick up trash from the few accounts that we had, go home and take a shower, put on a suit and then go sell our service to obtain new customers. I did this for a few months until I was able to hire our first driver, and focus on growing the company. To this day, I still maintain my CDL license so that I can drive any of the trucks in our various fleets if I have to…just in case.
Unlike many of our elected officials, I know what it means to work hard. I know what it means to take risks. We broke ground on a new truck terminal the week of the September 11th terror attacks. At a moment of great financial uncertainty in this nation, I had just placed my entire financial security on the line. This was a terrifying realization, and it made for a scary couple of months as I worked night and day to ensure that our company did not fail.
Looking back almost 40 years when I started my first business enterprise, I was able to walk into small community banks and borrow money. Many of the bankers at these small community banks were able to lend me money the old fashioned way – they knew who I was, they knew I was a hard worker and they were confident I would repay the money they were lending me. Many of the original community bankers have retired or passed on, and I am forever grateful they had confidence in me.
I would have to say that my life experience makes me uniquely suited for politics – but for a different kind of politics than many are used to. I understand what it means to have the force of government and choking regulations imposed on a small business owner. Over my 35-plus year private sector business career, it is crystal clear to me that our government, whether federal or state, does not treat businesses as customers in the same manner businesses treat their customers. It is from my past experience that when someone from either a federal or state agency knocks on your door without an appointment, they are trying to catch you breaking the rules or find you doing something wrong so they can fine you. I know that Pennsylvania works best when our state government gets out of the way of small businesses and allows people, like you and I, to chase our dreams and build our businesses which create jobs and economic growth. Ever since I was sworn into the Senate in April of 2014, I continuously use the phrase “I am inside the sausage factory, and now see first-hand how dysfunctional the sausage manufacturing process really is”.
I continue to look around Harrisburg and I find it exasperating as I continually hear from people “we have always done it this way”. We just completed the 2016-2017 budget process in July, and the resulting financial plan is breathtaking. We did not deal with a single cost driver and we did not bother to do the hard work of scraping pennies and nickels off the floor to keep costs down as we do in the private sector business world. Instead, we put a budget together that we know is not balanced over the long term and accomplishes nothing for Pennsylvania. In the private sector, if we handled our finances the way state government does, not disclosing off-balance sheet liabilities and not disclosing funds that are available, we would be led out of the Capitol building in handcuffs.
Pennsylvania state government has become a monster that only knows how to grow. In the private sector business world, business owners wake up every morning trying to come up with new ways to keep their costs down. We scour every expense looking for ways to make that expense less or even eliminate it entirely. We employ zero-based budgeting, assuming that no expense has a rightful place in our budget until we are sure that it needs to be there. In state government, everything starts at the amount that was budgeted the prior year and every agency expects an increase to the prior year’s budget.
The budget process is complete madness, and not just because costs are continuing to rise dramatically, meaning our government constantly needs more and more tax revenue. Harrisburg continues to spend more money each year which means we must bring in increased revenue, impacting businesses, which in turn stifles growth and does not allow our economy to grow. It is clear that no one wants to address the largest cost drivers, such as state pension programs and the percentage of benefits to every 1 dollar of payroll.
We continue to sell the people of Pennsylvania short by limiting the state’s ability to do meaningful reforms. In my various businesses, our number one goal is safety – if we focus on safety, the remaining things will follow. In state government, rather than focus on simply doing things the way that we have always done them, we should make changes and focus on providing the services that Pennsylvanians want in a fiscally responsible way.
I support all forms of education. It is critical that we institute much needed reforms to ensure that money is going to classrooms and positively impacting our children’s lives. This means evaluating programs for their effectiveness and eliminating those that do not work, rather than keeping them alive just because they are the pet project of some lawmaker. Our current education system needs to be retooled to meet the changing demands that businesses require for people they employ.
Pennsylvanians face real challenges, and many of them are impacted by state government. We cannot continue on the current path we are on. Raising taxes on working families and businesses should be the last resort. Our number one priority should be to manage the current revenue that goes into Pennsylvania’s bank accounts. As a private sector business owner, I know how to prioritize so that I am providing the best service to our customers at the lowest possible cost – and this is exactly what state government needs to do. We need to hit the reset button on state spending so that we are funding things that work, and not funding programs that do not work. This is what the people of Pennsylvania not only expect, but it is what they deserve.
As a private sector business owner, I am used to just making decisions and seeing them carried out. So as you can imagine, some of my time in Harrisburg has been a little frustrating because everything has to happen by consensus. People routinely ask me if I am frustrated and discouraged. My answer to these people is that I am becoming more motivated every day by the dysfunctional climate in Harrisburg. We have so many opportunities here in Pennsylvania. It is critical that we have experienced, common-sensed and logical leadership with vision within state government.
I have always said that I like a challenge. Working as a State Senator to do what needs to be done has definitely been a challenge, and has also been highly educational and eye opening. I take my job as a State Senator very seriously and am honored to have the opportunity to serve. I look forward to working with my colleagues and with the public to capitalize on the many opportunities that we have before us.