Jobs, Taxes, Transportation, and Opioid Crisis Among Rep. Lou Schmitt’s Priorities


Devon Henninger

State Representative Lou Schmitt giving his victory speech after being declared the winner of the 79th District on Election Night.

Altoona native Lou Schmitt is in his first term representing the 79th District in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives. Schmitt was an attorney for 30 years before deciding to run for a seat in the State House representing Altoona.

“As a lawyer I was an advocate for people in the courtroom,” says Schmitt,” as a State Representative, I will be an advocate for the people.”

According to Schmitt, the issues that matter the most to the 79th District are “economic development, good transportation, a good tax climate, and government policies favorable to job creation.”

As a former basketball player, I can tell you that we need to put a full-court press on the opioid issue.”

— Representative Lou Schmitt

Job creation and economic development are very important to the city of Altoona, whose unemployment rate lingers around 5%, almost a full percentage point higher than the US average.

Altoona has  been experiencing negative job growth over recent times. For those who are employed in the 79th District, nearly 20% are making under $15,000 annually.

Public transportation, which Schmitt says is one of the issues that matters the most to him, is a big issue for the 79th District.

The Altoona Metro Transit (AMTRAM), founded in 1882, has been used for over a century by the people of the 79th District. From students of Penn State’s Altoona campus to the average person going to work or around the city, maintaining good public transportation opens up many opportunities for Schmitt’s constituents.

The Pennsylvania gas tax is known to be the highest in the nation, at just about $0.58 per gallon. It was last raised in 2014 whenever the legislature passed a bill to give better funding to PennDOT for state police and highways. Yet, Pennsylvania is still regarded as having some of the worst roads in the nation. With that being the case, many legislators including Schmitt are looking at how the gas tax money is being used, and if it should be raised.

“We need to stabilize the gas tax. This upcoming two-year session of our legislature should not raise the gas taxes,” said Schmitt.

Schmitt also said that the General Assembly should not raise the car and truck registration fees or the drivers license fees.

Another important issue both nationally and locally is the ongoing opioid epidemic.  In 2017 Pennsylvania was referred to as one of the states worst hit by the opioid problem. Statistics from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that the number of Pennsylvania deaths in 2017 was almost double the national average.

During a recent two-hour hearing that the Pennsylvania House Appropriations Committee and the commonwealth’s Department of Health held, the opioid epidemic was heavily discussed. At this hearing, multiple state legislators alluded to the fact that more needs to be done about the opioid crisis in Pennsylvania. This has caused many citizens of Pennsylvania to question what exactly our state legislators will do to combat the ongoing epidemic.

“The opioid issue is a complex one that requires a great cooperative and collective process that is done between our lawmakers, the governor, physicians, law enforcement, parents, churches, and government agencies,” said Schmitt, “As a former basketball player, I can tell you that we need to put a full-court press on the opioid issue.”

We need to stabilize the gas tax.”

— Representative Lou Scmitt

One area of discussion relevant to students is the Keystone standardized testing program.

In October 2018, Governor Tom Wolf signed  on Senate Bill 1095, which delayed the Keystone graduation requirements until the 2021-2022 school year.

This bill allows alternatives to be used to have students within Pennsylvania graduate, rather than making pass standardized tests in Algebra, Literature and Biology.

However, in order to graduate,  students must meet requirements of their school district if it does not require the Keystones

Representative Schmitt supports getting rid of the Keystone standardized tests.

“Education should be more than coaching students on how to pass an institutional test,” said Schmitt.

Governor Wolf’s ability to be bi-partisan while working with a Republican majority in the General Assembly has been questioned time and time again.

Representative Schmitt is optimistic that Governor Wolf will be bi-partisan because, according to Schmitt, “he has to be.” He also believes that Governor Wolf has “gotten better” throughout his time as Governor.

Representative Schmitt says that he believes in bi-partisan ship to compromise and make better legislative decisions for the good of the 79th District and all of Pennsylvania. Scmitt says motto for his time as a member of the General Assembly is, “We the People. You and me. Together.”

Many of Schmitt’s constituents have asked if he plans to run again in 2020. Schmitt says that he hasn’t yet made any decisions about running. “It’s still too far in the future,” said Schmitt.

Constituents who have questions or concerns can contact him via his website.