Two candidates for the Missouri Senate offered contrasting views Tuesday on issues from taxes to expanding Medicaid during a forum focused on issues directly affecting low-income families.
Also Tuesday, a judge’s ruling made it official that a third candidate will appear on the Nov. 7 ballot. Independent Jacob Turk, who has run for Congress several times as a Republican, will be on the ballot along with Democrat Hillary Shields and Republican Mike Cierpiot. Turk was not at Tuesday’s forum.
All three candidates are from Lee’s Summit, and they are running in District 8, covering Lee’s Summit, Blue Springs, Grain Valley and the rest of southeast Jackson County. The winner fills out the final year of the term of Will Kraus, a Lee’s Summit Republican who resigned two months ago.
Cierpiot, majority floor leader in the Missouri House of Representatives, along with fellow Republicans in the General Assembly has opposed expanding Medicaid as outlined in the Affordable Care Act. He said states that have done so “are now regretting it,” though he conceded that none have reversed that expansion.
Under the ACA, the federal government picks up nearly all the cost of enrolling into Medicaid those without health insurance. In Missouri, about 300,000 people would be eligible if the state expanded the program.
Shields, a cofounder of Indivisible KC, said expanding the program would be right morally and fiscally.
“And I feel this is one example of really short-sighted thinking in Missouri,” she said, adding that Missourians are already paying federal taxes for the program but their money is going to other states, the ones that have expanded Medicaid.
Cierpiot said Medicaid in Missouri needs reforms and the states are limited in what they can do until the federal government takes its next steps on health care. He said more money for Medicaid would inevitably mean less for education.
“Giving more people bad insurance is not necessarily the solution,” he said.
He also pointed to the federal government’s massive debt and said accepting Washington’s money is in effect stealing from future generations.
“And I think it’s immoral for us to take more money from the federal government that they don’t have,” he said.
The candidates spoke at a forum held in Blue Springs by the Community Services League. Officials said they didn’t intend it as a debate but did want the candidates to address issues important to their clients such as wages, housing, health care and payday loans.
The group’s president and CEO, Doug Cowan, said poor people too seldom have a seat at the table when public policy is discussed.
“We just want to be a reasonable voice for the people we serve,” he said.
Among the issues organizers put on the floor:
• A state version of the federal earned-income tax credit. Both Shields and Cierpiot said they support it.
• A cap on interest rates for payday loans. “The way these loans are structured … they are virtually impossible to get out of,” Cowan said, adding that clients of a CSL program to address the issue have been paying an average interest rate of 202 percent to payday lenders. The General Assembly has consistently refused to take up legislation to cap those rates. Cierpiot said the rates are too high but said the federal government is drafting rules on that issue. “Until that comes out, it’s too early to say what we should do,” he said.
• Shields applauded the Community Services League for taking a holistic approach to helping families get out of poverty.
“I think that’s exactly the strategy we need to take if we want to improve people’s lives,” she said.
Cierpiot, who favors allowing more charter schools, said education is the key to solving many economic problems.
“Too many kids are locked into bad traditional schools,” he said. “Their parents care as much as you or I do.”
Shields added a few more points: Repeal the “right to work” legislation that weakens union rules, a measure the General Assembly approved this year. She also said she feels that legislators often don’t listen to people, and she said many people working for a living are struggling.
“They’re working 40 hours a week at low-wage jobs … and we need people in policy, people in office to put their needs first,” she said. Those who work should have decent wages, should have good schools for their children and shouldn’t have to worry that a health problem will wipe them out financially, she said.
She also criticized the General Assembly’s continued cuts to the University of Missouri.
“That’s going to make it harder for middle-class families to send their kids to college,” she said.
Tax cuts for corporations – larger than described by legislators at the time of passage – have hurt state revenues and hurt programs that help people, she said.
“It’s not a mystery why we’re having budget shortfalls right now,” she said.
Turning that around, however, would be difficult as Cierpiot pointed out that any sizeable tax increase requires voter approval.
“But I don’t think that’s the problem,” he said. “The problem is 2 percent (economic) growth.”