Health care, school funding among issues discussed by candidates at forum

Senate candidates disagree on use of red-light cameras


Health care and school funding were among the issues discussed by several south county political candidates during a recent forum.

Attending the forum, which was sponsored by the South County Chamber of Commerce, were: former 100th District Rep. Joan Barry and Rep. Jim Lembke, R-Lemay, who are vying for the 1st state Senate District seat; 6th District County Councilman John Campisi, R-south county, and Democratic challenger Steve Stenger; 15th District state Senate Democratic candidate Jim Trout; 85th District Missouri House candidates Republican Cloria Brown and Democrat Vicki Lorenz Englund; Rep. Walt Bivins, R-Oakville, and his Democratic challenger for the 97th District House seat, former Rep. Jan Polizzi of Concord; Rep. Sue Schoemehl, D-Oakville; and 66th District House Republican candidate Jerry Morgan.

While an article in last week’s Call focused on Campisi and Stenger engaging in a shouting match at the forum, the remaining candidates debated several issues.

Asked why he voted in 2005 “to cut health-care benefits for 70,000 Missourians,” Lembke said, “Let’s go back to where the state was with the Medicaid program that was bankrupting Missouri. We had about a million people at that time on our Medicaid program. The Medicaid program was using every dollar of new revenue that was coming into the state and not letting us address the other priorities of the state … Now we made some changes. They were some tough votes. And sometimes, leaders have to make tough votes. So yes, we did change the qualifications. We currently have 835,000 Missourians on our health-care plan for the poor in Missouri. In this budget this year, we appropriated $8 billion for health care for the poor. I think the people of Missouri are very, very generous … Have we fixed the problem? No, we haven’t.

“And we can continue to work on it together, and I am willing to work across party lines to make sure that we can address the concerns of those that are uninsured in our state. We need to work together and we need to create jobs that put people to work so they can support their families and have health care.”

Barry later said, “It is a travesty to think that we took 28,500 children off of health care. In addition … the $1.6 billion in federal matching funds from fiscal years 2006 to 2009 has been turned back … There are elderly people, there are disabled, there are children who do not have health care. And no matter what you say that you’re going to change the way that Medicaid money is distributed, those children, those people do not have health care. And this we cannot have. At the very least, we need to look at the budget and return that funding, that money, to our children.”

Schoemehl — who is seeking a fourth term against Republican Nick Haul, who did not attend the forum — advocated increased health care as well as educating and protecting the uninsured.

“It’s true that people not having health insurance end up in the emergency rooms in the hospital,” she said. “They need help and they go there quickly because they know they can go there any time of the day. The clinics that are available would be a better resource. But people really don’t know about those or pay attention to those.

“We have to do more education for people to get them to those federally qualified health-care centers because there are some qualified people there and they do handle medical services well.”

Barry and Lembke also disagreed about the use of red-light cameras at intersections.

Barry said, “I think it’s a wise thing to do. I think it’s going to make all of us that fear those cameras drive more cautiously and at a better speed. And so I think they do have a useful purpose and I would have to say yes, that’s probably a good thing to have.”

Lembke said, “… I’m against them totally. They’re unconstitutional. You cannot write a ticket to a license plate. The law-enforcement agencies don’t know who’s driving that vehicle. And they’re a revenue generator for these cities. Totally against it.”

Brown and Englund were asked how they would improve Missouri schools’ performance.

Englund said, “Well, I think there are several things that we can do … I think we need to increase teachers’ salaries … A lot of teachers are not making enough money to No. 1, pay back their own student loans and No. 2, to have a sustainable salary to support their families … And we also need to look at increasing the number of teachers so that we have fewer children in the classroom … You may have heard a lot about, for those of you who live in the Lindbergh School District, Sperreng Middle School is completely overcrowded … And I think what we need to do is take a look at the individual classrooms and then also plan for the future. Those children need to have a place where they can learn that’s not a trailer. And we need to work hard and come up with solutions. And I think the school district has come up with some solutions. And we need to look at those plans and do it in an effective way so that we don’t run into this overcrowding problem in the future.”

Brown said, “… Our seniors are sitting there and they are saying: ‘We can’t give you any more money because every year we make less money.’ And the teachers in the school districts are saying: ‘We need more money.’ So it seems to me that we need to take property tax and throw it out the window and find some other way of funding our schools because property taxes are not going to work because the seniors are not going to vote for tax increases … Property taxes are killing them. So I think we need to look at a new way of doing it. Perhaps we fund our taxes, get our taxes from sales tax. I don’t know what the answer is. But we have to find an answer. And I think sales tax is a lot better answer … Sales tax would be much better because at least then when they go to the store, they know what they’re spending and they know how much tax they’re going to pay. Right now, they don’t know …”

Englund replied, “I think Cloria and I are both on the same page as far as knowing the importance of education and the fact that we need to do something to fix it. I’ll tell you I disagree completely with the method by which my opponent has suggested … I think in a time of economic crisis, the very last thing we should do is increase the sales tax. I think by increasing the sales tax, not only are you penalizing the people who depend more on consumer products, you’re also increasing gas prices.

“And I would hate to think of gas prices going even higher if we increase the sales tax. So I think we need to come up with some more creative solutions than that …”

Brown said, “Sales tax doesn’t have to increase. All I’m saying is replace one with the other. I’m not really saying add taxes be-cause the last thing in the world I would do is ask anyone to add taxes. But I do believe that if you’re going to the store and you know what your tax amount is going to be, you can make that decision right then.

“Whereas right now, these (property) assessments go up and you have no choice. This is what your tax is going to be with the assessment. So at least it’s an answer. Is it the only answer? Probably not. But it’s an answer that we can all live with and understand.”

Polizzi and Bivins were asked if they have a position that goes against their political party.

Polizzi said, ” … I’m a Daughters of the American Revolution member and I am very interested in constitutional law. And I’m almost to the point that I’m almost a strict interpretationist. So sometimes, that is in conflict with my party.”

Bivins said, “One of the things that I have a real struggle with within our party … was really this issue of school funding. Back a couple years ago, you’re all aware that we did change the funding formula. And within that funding formula was something called a dollar-value modifier. And that really dictated the amount of funds that would go to the schools. The dollar-value modifier, in my opinion, really penalized the urban schools and those schools that had formerly been classified as hold-harmless. And I ended up voting against my party on that bill because I didn’t feel like it really treated our taxpayers in the St. Louis area fairly.”