Candidates answer questions on health care, job creation, social issues and moreClear differences in their approaches to health care, job creation and social issues were voiced by the candidates for three state legislative seats who participated in a voters forum Tuesday night at the River Falls Public Library.
By: Randy Hanson, Hudson Star-Observer
Clear differences in their approaches to health care, job creation and social issues were voiced by the candidates for three state legislative seats who participated in a voters forum Tuesday night at the River Falls Public Library.
Republicans incumbents Sen. Sheila Harsdorf, Rep. Kitty Rhoades and Rep. John Murtha took written questions from the audience, along with and Democratic challengers Alison Page, Sarah Bruch and Chris Buckel.
Harsdorf and Page are vying to represent the 10th District in the State Senate. Rhoades and Bruch are seeking the 30th Assembly District seat, and Murtha and Buckel are contending for the 29th Assembly District seat.
The forum was sponsored by RiverTown Newspaper Group and the River Falls branch of the American Association of University Women. Don Davis, a Hudson resident and chief of Forum Communications' Minnesota Capitol Bureau, moderated the program.
The Republican candidates all argued for mainly private-sector solutions to rising health care costs and people going without insurance.
"There is no silver bullet," said Rhoades. "We need to understand that Wisconsin has stepped up to the plate with BadgerCare Plus."
She said 98% of children in the state have health insurance coverage because of the state-run program that provides coverage for children who otherwise wouldn't have access to it.
"What we don't need is government-run health care," Rhoades said. Harsdorf pointed to health care cooperatives as a market-based approach to making health insurance affordable.
She said she helped pass the state law that gave the Wisconsin Federation of Cooperatives the ability to form five health care cooperatives that will negotiate and contract with insurers to provide coverage for the co-op members.
The first health care co-op has been operating for a year and a half, Harsdorf said, and is a model being emulated in other states. The Democratic candidates said state government hasn't gone far enough to insure that all Wisconsinites have access to affordable health care.
"I won't stare at this issue. It is time to get it (solved)," said Bruch.
She said 500,000 Wisconsinites don't have health insurance coverage and another 500,000 or more are underinsured.
"We're paying more and getting less," Bruch said, claiming that one in five bankruptcies and many home foreclosures are the result of people not being able to pay medical bills.
Health insurance premiums have doubled in the past seven years, she said.
Page, who left her position as a hospital administrator to run for the State Senate, said the health care issue is one the main reasons she got into the race.
She said there needs to be a change in philosophy from health care being a privilege of employment to being a basic human right.
In fact, federal law already makes it a right, Page said, because hospitals can't turn people away for financial reasons. The costs of treating the uninsured are added up and divided among the people who do have insurance, she said.
Page said government needs to focus on providing people access to health care, bringing down costs and improving quality of service, and preventative care.
"We need to get the people (involved in providing health care) around the table and get it solved," she said.
Regarding job creation, Democrats Page and Bruch called for state investment in programs to encourage the development of renewable energy businesses.
"We can be a leader in this area," Page said. She called for the state to provide an additional $8 million in renewable energy loans and grants.
"We need to get people to work now," Page said, repeating her support of job growth package proposed a week earlier by Senate Democrats. Their plan is to close corporate tax loopholes and use the money to provide, among other things, an additional $50 million for state highway rehabilitation.
Investing in highways would immediately create 2,500 good-paying jobs, Page said.
Bruch said that investing in renewable energy could bring 20,000 green jobs to the state over the next decade.
She also called for tax fairness. Wisconsin ranks third-lowest in the nation in the collection of corporate taxes, she said, and in 44th in job creation.
"We have a failed structure when we're third-lowest in taxes and 44th in job growth," she said.
The question from the audience asked how the candidates would position the state to attract jobs "when we continue to be one of the highest taxes states in the U.S.?"
According to the Tax Foundation, a non-partisan research organization based in Washington, D.C., Wisconsin's per capita state and local taxes ranked ninth-highest in the nation in 2008. On a per capita basis, state residents paid 10.2% of income in state and local taxes, the foundation reported, compared to the national average of 9.7%
Wisconsin residents paid a lower dollar amount ($4,194) compared to the national average ($4,292), however, because their per capita income was lower.
Republicans Rhoades and Harsdorf said raising taxes isn't the way to grow the economy and create jobs. They both called for streamlining the business-licensing process and encouraging investment in start-up companies through the Wisconsin Angel Network, a state program launched by Gov. Jim Doyle in 2005.
Other the 13 questions the candidates fielded dealt with a proposed statewide smoking ban in all public places, environmental concerns, UW-River Falls faculty pay, lowering the drinking age, capital punishment, sex education, employee benefits for same-sex couples, voter photo IDs, the tone of political campaigns and allowing eight-year-olds to hunt.
A disproportionate number of the questions dealt with social issues, while many of the budget and economic issues that the state legislature will face in the next term were left unaddressed.
For example, should the 2% limit on municipal and county tax levy increases be continued? Does the school aid formula need to be adjusted? What should the state do to deal with the current economic downturn? How should the state reduce spending if tax revenues decline?
One of the social issue questions that put the candidates on the spot was, Do you believe all unborn people have human rights? Answer yes or no.
Harsdorf and Rhoades answered, "Yes."
Murtha said no, but it was obvious from his follow-up comments that he meant yes. He said he has been endorsed by the Wisconsin Right to Life organization.
"I am pro-life," Buckel replied, and said that he, too, had the endorsement of the pro-life organization.
Page and Bruch answered "No."
Page said she is pro-life, but abortion rights need to be protected.
"I trust women to make the right choices," Page said.
"This is a tough question - a really tough question," said Bruch. "I personally would never choose one for myself, but I believe it's a question to be answered between a woman and her physician."
See next week's Star-Observer for more of the candidates' responses