October 28, 2004
Berkowitz, Munzlinger Square Off In Debate For House Seat
Regardless of how voters in the First District cast their ballots, the region will have an experienced legislator to serve northeast Missouri in Jefferson City. Incumbent Brian Munzlinger, R-Lewistown and former state representative Sam Berkowitz, D-Memphis, squared off in a televised debate October 20th in Canton to try to help voters decide who is the best candidate come November 2nd.
The forum, which was televised live on WGEM television of Quincy, allowed both candidates to address questions from a media panel consisting of Doug Wilson of the Quincy Herald-Whig, Dan Steinbeck of the Canton Press News Journal and Matt Schmidt of KHQA television.
Education took center stage for both men as funding issues have been one of the bigger campaign platforms for both candidates.
Berkowitz stated that education has always been his top priority. He pointed to the $600 million shortfall in fully funding the state’s education formula, adding that 3,000 school employees had been laid off in education including 1,500 certified teachers.
“I will never ever cut the schools of this area like they have been cut the last couple of years,” Berkowitz said.
“That kind of rings hollow,” Munzlinger retorted. “The last year my opponent was in the legislature seven of our schools up here lost funding. Actually, we have given education more money each year than they have gotten the year before. I don’t see any cuts there.”
Munzlinger pointed out that the foundation is outdated, having been in use for 13 years even though the creator had envisioned its use for only eight years.
“It’s time we rolled up our sleeves and went to work on this,” Munzlinger said. “It’s a broken formula. However if there are any changes, we need to be sure and protect the funding for our rural schools.”
He pointed out that in each of his four years in Jefferson City that education funding has increased, including a growth of $143 million this year, which was $10 million more than Governor Bob Holden had in his original budget plan.
Berkowitz countered, pointing out that the foundation formula was $600 million from being fully funded.
“What the Republicans did this year was to fill in the gap from 2003,” Berkowitz said. “The people in this district lost $700,000, in all the counties, $700,000, in things that were cut by the Republicans in 2003. We are $115 million still behind in the foundation formula this year.”
The education funding issue boiled over into a later question regarding tax increases.
Asked when they would vote for a tax increase, Munzlinger stated that he had not voted for a tax increase since he had been in Jefferson City. He added that he would not do so until “we run out of cutting waste, fraud and abuse, that we have in our system, then it might be necessary, but not until then.”
Berkowitz responded, stating that lack of funding for education in the past few years had forced school districts to pass tax levy increases.
“Actually Brian you have voted for a tax increase,” he said. “Last year when you voted to cut $700,000 from this area and $600 million statewide in the last two years, you shifted the burden of the taxes from the legislature to the local taxpayers.”
Berkowitz stated that last year 114 school districts voted on tax levy increases.
“If that’s not a tax increase, nothing is,” Berkowitz said. “And you voted on it.”
Munzlinger countered, noting that it was withholdings by Governor Holden that caused the funding shortages for schools that ultimately pushed the districts to pursue local tax levy increases.
“That was 3,000 teacher’s salaries that he withheld,” Munzlinger said.
Berkowitz pointed to the transition to lump sum budgeting under the Republicans control of the legislature as a problem for education funding and the budget problems overall.
“If I’m elected I’d stand on my desk to make sure this didn’t happen again,” Berkowitz said. “Lump sum budgeting in essence took every legislator out of the budget process. We used to go over the budget line item by line item.”
Berkowitz blamed the lawmakers Republican leadership for changing this process in 2003, giving the budget process over instead to the department heads.
“That in effect, is giving the budget to the bureaucrats,” he said. “That is a total diminished leadership. We in this district were diminished because of that.”
Munzlinger responded, stating that Berkowitz knew what really happened as he was working in Jefferson City when Governor Holden sent out a memo to all the department heads encouraging them not to work with the legislature on the budget plan.
Other areas where the two candidates differed included support for Amendment #3, which would end the diversion of funding meant for transportation into the state’s general revenue fund.
Berkowitz pointed out his history of supporting transportation funding for highways 136 and 61, but noted the proposed law change does have a Catch 22. He indicated the law change could create a $1 billion revenue shortfall because of the transportation funds that will no longer find their way to the general revenue fund.
“There is the possibility that some of that money that went to education, social services and other departments may not be available,” Berkowitz said. “So what’s the next step when they say that it won’t raise your taxes? Well if the money is not available, then what do you do? You either do something about taxes, or you cut.”
Munzlinger responded, stating he had not heard any concerns about a budget shortfall, “not since Governor Holden was playing Chicken Little two years ago, and actually this last year when he withheld the reserve funds from education.”
The Republican candidate said he was in favor of the amendment, noting it would make MoDOT more accountable, something voters have wanted since Proposition B failed to increase funding to the state highway department.
The two men also differed in opinion regarding a new governor.
Munzlinger stated “any new governor would be a breath of fresh air” since Governor Holden refused to work with the legislature. He noted that both Matt Blunt and Claire McCaskill have campaigned as candidates that will make bipartisan efforts with lawmakers to solve the state’s problems.
“I’ve had the governor’s people in my office and they told me one thing on Thursday night and on Monday morning it was exactly opposite.”
Berkowitz defended Governor Holden, pointing out his efforts to help make the Highway 61 project a priority to receive funding for four lanes.
“If it wasn’t for Governor Holden, the highway out here that we see running through this county and soon to be in Clark County, would not have been done,” Berkowitz said. “So let’s give credit, where credit is due.”
Both candidates agreed on a number of key issues, including the high priority of transportation, prescription drug prices, expanding ethanol and bio-diesel use programs, and the war on methamphetamine.
Berkowitz closed by saying “I’m the representative that improved your road and bridges. I made your nursing homes safer. I helped find operating funds for the Jim Sears Northeast Technical Center that will help to bring you more jobs here. I had eight forums in the four years I was here on every subject you can think of. I’m the representative that brought Jefferson City closer to the First District. I’d like to continue that effort.”
Munzlinger closed by stating that “when my opponent was in Jeff City he voted 23 times to raise $1.2 billion in taxes, and that reaches into your pocket. “What I want to do, is simply what I’ve done – I’ve represented the values of our rural area. I want to be sent back to Jefferson City to represent the people of the First District and carry on what we’ve started - that is making the government more accountable.”