Candidate Tim Tuinstra with two of his three children.
Like everyone else running for the District 20 seat in Pennsylvania’s House of Representative, Tim Tuinstra is running against a “broken government” in Harrisburg. And like his competitors, the main symbol of this brokenness is the consistently overdue Pennsylvania budget that negatively affects so many people.
Unlike everyone else, however, he has a personal experience with the budget. As an unclaimed property auditor for the state, Tuinstra was one of the first of his colleagues to smell trouble when the budget began to stall out last summer. By the time it had passed months later, Tuinstra had already been let go.
Tuinstra said civil servant layoffs are one thing, but when he saw a daycare close in his Observatory Hill neighborhood because of months without state payments, he realized how devastating the process was to the larger public’s wellbeing.
And it gave him a simple platform to run on.
“It’s been seven years in a row that the legislature hasn’t been on time,” he said in his characteristic calm demeanor, a feature that belies his indignation. “I’ll be the voice in there saying, ‘We have to start early.’ … Part of why that daycare closed is that the state budget wasn’t passed until October. There’s any number of services [that were affected], the schools had to hold off on some things.
“Seven years in a row, that’s like not showing up for work. The one thing that these guys are required to do by the state constitution is have a budget on the table by June 30th every year. They haven’t done it since 2002.”
During his years working for the state, and especially during an earlier position auditing hospitals and nursing homes, Tuinstra said he gained a wealth of insights about how government works.
“I saw a lot of things the state does well, and I saw a lot of things the state does not do so well. So I figured, as a legislator, I could have some input on that, make government work more efficiently,” Tuinstra said.
Tuinstra has a low-key bearing that doesn’t fit the politico stereotype. You get the sense that he’s not trying to sell you anything. So when he said, “I’m not planning to be a career politician,” it wasn’t hard to believe.
As a former president and board member of Observatory Hill, Inc., Tuinstra cut his teeth on the public process by helping to initiate street sweeping when the city couldn’t handle regular cleanups in his neighborhood. He also helped hold activity days in Riverview Park to familiarize people with the park’s amenities and also helped with block watches.
But the number one reason he thinks you should vote for him on May 18th?
It’s not that he’s “the only outsider” in the race, although he probably deserves that title more than the competition, but rather, he already has years of experience tabulating state expenditures. Simply put, Tuinstra thinks state government could use a legislator like him to tackle the waste and improve services.
“So we spend x number of dollars on this project , and they’re handling the money correctly, that’s good,” Tuinstra said. “But let’s go the next step. Are we accomplishing the purpose that we’ve spent this money for?”
Tuinstra seemed to think that was a question most legislators don’t like to ask.
“There are some programs that the state has run decade after decade that don’t work,” he added.
If elected, Tuinstra also believes that future tax cooperation with surburbanites who work in the city will prove a viable solution to Pittsburgh’s budgetary shortfalls.
Pittsburgh needs larger numbers of fireman and policeman on duty because of the large influx of suburbanites during the workday. That’s something Harrisburg doesn’t understand, he said.
In addition to saying that job growth is a strong issue for him, Tuinstra said not enough voters realize that state governments will get a large hand in determining health reform’s parameters.
“Health care is always an issue, but obviously now that this law has passed, the reality is that the states are the ones that will be implementing what Washington comes up with,” Tuinstra said. “It’s going to be up to the state, and that’s where efficiency and better service comes up.”
The election on May 18 will put Tuinstra against Brighton Heights native Dan Keller, former Ross Township Commissioner and the mayor’s younger brother, Adam Ravenstahl.
Unlike most political hopefuls, Tim Tuinstra doesn’t want to be a career politician. He just wants state government to mend itself.
“I’m a realist, you don’t spend decades creating problems [but then] ‘Hey, Tim Tuinstra got elected.’ I’m well aware it doesn’t [work that way],” Tuinstra laughed. “But I’m also well aware that if you don’t have new blood in there that isn’t connected to the same old names and the same old scenes, it won’t change.”