GOP Family Feud: Conservative group targets Pa. House leader Saylor for gas tax, budget votes

‘After 28 years, it is time to retire Harrisburg Stan Saylor,’ the Citizens Alliance of Pennsylvania argues in a new ad

By: - March 16, 2022 4:56 pm

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A top legislative Republican is already facing attacks and a likely primary opponent for not being conservative enough.

A new ad by the Cumberland County-based advocacy group, Citizens Alliance of Pennsylvania, takes aim at House Appropriations Committee Chairperson Stan Saylor, R-York, accusing him of voting for the “bloated budgets of Democrat governors [Ed] Rendell and [Tom] Wolf” and highlights his votes for two infrastructure bills that increased Pennsylvania’s gas tax.

“After 28 years, it is time to retire Harrisburg Stan Saylor,” the ad says of the House GOP leader, who was first elected in 1992. 

The group’s political director, Leo Knepper, told the Capital-Star that the ads are symbolic of frustration he’s heard from activists and voters galvanized by the last two years of shutdowns.

“There are very few incumbents in the General Assembly whose record would prevent them from seeing similar ads in their districts,” Knepper said.

Knepper declined to say how long the ads would run, or how much they cost.

Saylor, however, is a target because of his key role. 

As the chairperson of the House Appropriations Committee since 2016, he plays a key role in negotiating the state’s budget each year. To get a spending plan done on time, he has to work with the Republican-controlled Senate as well as Wolf. 

During his first year as chair, the state weathered one budget impasse. Since, Wolf and Republicans negotiated a string of compromise budgets buoyed by higher than expected state revenues.

In an interview, Saylor disputed the ad’s assertion about his record, saying some of it “is a lie, [and] that’s nothing new.”

As for his votes for the gas tax, Saylor pointed to arguments that a Citizens Alliance board member made Tuesday.

In an op-ed for his conservative Lincoln Institute, Lowman Henry, treasurer of the alliance, argued against a gas tax holiday. 

“Rather than ideologically-driven policies,” Henry wrote, the free market development could lower costs and expand infrastructure.

Saylor said this showed opponents were “talking out of both sides of their mouth.”

“You can’t say you’re for infrastructure and say you’re opposed to the gas tax,” Saylor said.

Knepper countered that his political work, through a related PAC, was separate from Henry’s.

The Citizens Alliance has a long history of attacking legislative Republicans from the right. They went after former House Speaker Sam Smith, R-Jefferson, for passing one of the gas tax increases in 2013.

The group also targeted and helped defeat Republican state Sen. Randy Vulakovich, R-Allegheny, in the 2018 primary, in a campaign that also focused on the gas tax. The primary challenger, however, lost a close general election, and Democrats flipped the seat.

Saylor’s York County district, which includes some suburbs of the city of York, small towns, and farmland, was only somewhat changed in redistricting. 

Candidates can start collecting signatures to get on for the May 17 primary ballot Friday, according to a state Supreme Court order Wednesday afternoon.

At least one hopeful, local conservative education advocate Wendy Fink, has announced a run against Saylor. She’s already formed a PAC, and her website states her intent to run in Saylor’s district.

Fink did not respond to a request for comment. But in a statement on her website, Fink says that she is running because of her concerns about the quality of education and the size of government. 

She added that she’s “seen first hand how our local representatives have played politics and avoided getting involved when we needed them.”

“Someone needs to stand up and work for the people, whether it be in a school setting, a business, or simply being able to shop in our community,” Fink added.

Saylor said he’d set the record straight during the coming campaign. According to FCC records, Saylor is also hitting back with ads of his own, starting Monday.

Still, Knepper added Tuesday that the Saylor ads aren’t the end of their role in 2022. 

“We are having conversations with a number of candidates across the state,” Knepper added. “Some are in open seats, some are challenging incumbents, some have been drawn into each other’s districts.”

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Stephen Caruso
Stephen Caruso

Stephen Caruso is a former senior reporter with Pennsylvania Capital-Star. Before working with the Capital-Star he covered Pennsylvania state government for The PLS Reporter.