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October 28, 2010

Senate, House Hopefuls Square Off at Schuyler County Candidate Forum

The two candidates for the 18th Senatorial District took advantage of one final area candidate forum to establish firm differences in their platforms while the two First District Representative hopefuls continued to propose similar actions if they are sent to Jefferson City.

Approximately 100 people gathered in Queen City on Monday evening at the Schuyler County School at a forum sponsored by Western's Smokehouse, the Schuyler County Times and the Memphis Democrat newspapers.

Schuyler County Times publisher Herb Austin along with Schuyler County judge-elect Kelly Lovekamp moderated a series of submitted questions for senate candidates Wes Shoemyer D-Clarence and Brian Munzlinger, R-Lewistown as well as first district representative candidates Keri Cottrell, D-Canton and Craig Redmon, R-Monticello.

The senate candidates quickly distanced themselves from each other on a number of the questions.

When asked about the dollar value modifier used for public school funding, Shoemyer pointed the finger at a change in the funding formula that was built by the former 18th District Senator Joe Maxwell that targeted equity to the new formula authored by Republican Charlie Shields that instead provides adequacy.

"Those are both two verbs, but they have totally different meanings," he told the audience.

Munzlinger agreed that the dollar value modifier is bad for the district, adding that he co-sponsored a bill to change the modifier. But he added House Bill 21-66 never could get the votes needed.

"If you take the five county geographical area of the First District and overlay it over St. Louis, you have somewhere between 53 to 57 house districts compared to our one," Munzlinger said arguing that the dollar value modifier is a rural versus urban issue not a partisan problem.

He added that one way to help rural schools with funding would be to do away with prevailing wage requirements for education-related capital improvements projects.

"That would allow school districts to save 20% to 22% on costs of building projects that could be spent on education instead," Munzlinger argued.

Shoemyer voiced his opposition to that solution.

"You propose to take the funds from the backs of the hard working people that put in the plumbing and fix the fixtures," he said. "One of the reasons I'm a Democrat is because I will always stand up for working folks every single day."

The two candidates took opposing viewpoints on the question of tort reform.

Munzlinger said tort reform is necessary to lower healthcare costs, pointing the finger at liberal trial attorneys that are driving up the cost of malpractice insurance. He added that the end result is fewer physicians in rural areas as they are forced to go to larger communities to receive umbrella liability coverage only available at big hospitals.

Shoemyer noted that the state created its own malpractice insurance provider back in 2005 to help doctors find affordable coverage, funding the plan with $6 million in an effort to take insurance companies out of the equation.

He added that tort reform is not the total answer to the health care crisis.

"Before you say all torts need to be eliminated, remember that one of the only places the common man is on the same footing as a big corporation is in the courtroom," Shoemyer said. "We need to think twice before we eliminate that right."

The two candidates also took opposing views on the voter-approved Proposition C that opposed the federal health care plans insurance mandates.

Shoemyer stressed that he voted to allow Missourians to cast their vote on the referendum despite political advertising to the contrary.

Munzlinger pointed out that while Senator Shoemyer may have voted for the issue on the floor, he did so after voting against it in committee and then voted against it at the ballot box.

He noted that Prop C was Missourian's way of telling the federal government to "stop ramming things down our throat."

"When the elected stop listening to what the people want, we are in a sorry shape here in the United States," Munzlinger said.

Shoemyer explained his position on Prop C by looking back to the 2005 Medicaid cuts.

"We sent hundreds of thousands of people off the line and today Missouri has over 700,000 uninsured individuals," Shoemyer said.

He asked what hospitals are going to do, because they are required to offer universal coverage, regardless of whether the patient has health insurance.

"So what are hospitals to do?" Shoemyer asked. "They find you or I who have insurance, those of us who are responsible. So what do they do, they jack our bills up. Then what happens? Insurance companies do actuaries, and what do they do - they jack our bills up."

He went on to highlight that Missouri's insurance rates are going up faster than any contiguous state.

"Those cuts were cuts that cost each and every one of us," Shoemyer said. He pointed out that for every dollar cut from Medicaid, it cost the state two dollars in federal money. "And for every dollar that was cut from CHIPS, which is children's insurance, we left three dollars in D.C., and left children uninsured."

Shoemyer pointed out that the one thing the federal health care plan mandates is that everyone will have insurance, which he explained is good because it saves money in the long run for people to be able to pursue preventive care from the doctor as opposed to emergency room care.

"This is a huge problem and yeah we don't like government getting in the way, but you think of who is in the way - insurance companies. The only way they make their money is if they deny or you die."

Another area of differing opinions came to light when a question was asked regarding enhanced 911 services for the region.

Shoemyer pointed out that Missouri is the only state that doesn't tax cellular phone service to fund E911 services. He noted that 95% of Missourians have cellular phones. "If we tax them one thin dime a month, that generates $7.2 million a year."

The senator explained this would not be a new tax, but would simply be replacing lost tax revenue from land lines that are being discontinued and replaced by cellular phones.

Munzlinger countered that it is not the time for new taxes, adding that while a dime might not sound so bad, "I've never seen a tax stop at that."

He instead noted the four counties lacking E911 service could have implemented the system four years ago when he visited with the county officials with a grant proposal in hand to help fund the mapping and service costs. None of the local governments chose to pursue the service.

Local control is a hot topic in northeast Missouri counties and the two candidates shared differing opinions on the subject.

Munzlinger highlighted the need to find technological advances to help battle odor issues related with livestock, an underlying factor in calls for greater limitations on CAFOs.

Shoemyer championed himself as the candidate that fought for local control, pointing the finger at Munzlinger as the candidate that voted to end it at the urging of Cargill and 17 other farm organizations.

HOUSE CANDIDATES

The house candidates offered far fewer fireworks, agreeing that the best solution for the E911 issue might be through the use of regional call centers and centralized dispatching to consolidate the costs.

Both Cottrell and Redmon spoke out in favor of local control. Cottrell noted that eliminating it only benefits corporate farmers while Redmon noted that local control is also very important for counties to be able to make zoning changes and other moves to promote economic development.

The two candidates also agreed that education funding cannot continue to be cut and the dollar value modifier needs to be repealed.

When questioned about Missouri's Prop C, Redmon said the state should not be forced to buy insurance and that the bill does not appear to be lowering costs as promised, pointing out price hike announcements in 2011 by Blue Cross and by Boeing for its employees benefits as well as the announcement that Principal will no longer offer health insurance coverage beginning in 2011.

Cottrell said she was initially excited about "Obamacare" and the opportunities it pledged to provide to increase access to healthcare.

However she noted that further investigation revealed that it is creating some obstacles to the promised access that have caused her some concerns.


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