Residents of the Upper Perkiomen Valley have a new face representing them in Harrisburg this year. Effective Jan. 1, Rep. Justin Simmons (R-131) became the voice for residents of East Greenville, Pennsburg and Red Hill – areas formerly represented by Rep. Marcy Toepel (R-147). The change is the result of the legislative redistricting plan approved by state lawmakers late last year.
“As a former Office Manager for State Sen. [Rob] Wonderling (R-24) and State Sen. Bob Mensch (R-24), I know the citizens of the Upper Perkiomen Valley are very hard-working, patriotic people who expect to have a representative that is visible and listens to their voice,” Simmons said. “I won’t let them down.”
Simmons said that soon, he will “start knocking on doors in the new portions of the district to introduce myself” to his new constituency. “The biggest challenge is just trying to meet as many constituents as possible so I can hear their concerns and represent them accordingly in Harrisburg. This is something I have experience with since I knocked on over 18,000 doors in my first run for office in 2010,” he said.
“With regard to the new areas I’ll be representing, I’ve already begun to speak with the Upper Pekiomen Valley Chamber of Commerce in order to get an idea of what issues are important to the region. I also know how important funding for organizations like The Open Line are. Last year, I witnessed Rep. Toepel go to bat to get their funding restored in the budget. I can’t help but think having two representatives for the region will only be a plus for things like this.”
In addition to reaching out personally to residents, Simmons plans to open satellite offices in each of the municipalities he represents, as well as find a more central location for his main office, which currently is on Route 378 in Lower Saucon Township.
Simmons, who also represents parts of Lehigh and Northampton counties, was born in 1987 and graduated from Southern Lehigh High School, where he was a member of the speech and debate teams. He studied political science at St. Joseph’s University in Philadelphia before running for office in 2010.
He believes that his “age has been a major benefit” for his legislative career because he brings a “different voice and perspective to Harrisburg that I believe is important to have.” He added, “My generation faces enormous challenges ahead at the national, state and local levels. We should have a voice in the future of our country, state and community.”
Since taking office last year, Simmons said his major accomplishments have been working with other lawmakers to pass the first on-time, balanced state budget in eight years that included no tax increases; eliminating eight of the 11 exceptions under Act 1 that school districts could use to increase taxes beyond the rate of inflation; and passing the state’s first tort reform laws by enacting the Fair Share Act.
He is also a strong proponent of other recent action taken by the legislature, including enactment of the Castle Doctrine; the creation of Pennwatch, an Internet database that will allow residents to see how their tax dollars are spent; welfare reform; and the imposition of an impact fee on Marcellus Shale drillers.
“On a personal note, I like to lead by example in these tough times. I haven’t taken a pension, per diems, car or cell phone, and have returned my cost of living increase for both years of my first term. I believe legislators need to lead by example in these tough times,” he said.
Within the state House, Simmons serves on the Education, Human Services, Insurance, and Urban Affairs committees for the 2011-12 legislative session.
“Education is by far my favorite committee. I believe providing a good education for every Pennsylvanian is a core responsibility of state government. One issue that we’ve been trying to advance as a committee is providing a more effective teacher evaluation process,” Simmons said.
He also joined the Property Tax Relief Caucus in the House.
“A consensus seems to be building in the caucus for some sort of increase in a broad-based consumption tax (sales tax) that will phase out school property taxes for everyone over a period of four years. In order for the math to add up, there would also need to be a small increase in the state’s personal income tax as well.
“My honest opinion is that it will be hard to get something that the House and Senate will pass and the governor will sign. I strongly believe that the best solution for school property tax relief is to treat the cause, which is spending. We need to allow our school districts more flexibility by allowing them to opt out of prevailing wage contracts for building projects and enact true pension reform,” he said.
In his spare time, Simmons said he enjoys spending time with his wife Erica, whom he married Dec. 3, 2011, reading, exercising and playing with his 1-year-old Labrador Retriever. He said he is also a “huge” Philadelphia Phillies fan.
As for the future, Simmons said he “will continue to enjoy serving the public and doing this job to the best of my ability. If at a certain time I feel that I have a legislative record that I’m proud of, I would consider running for a higher office where I feel I can make a greater difference.”