JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — Democratic Attorney General Chris Koster and Republican former Navy SEAL officer Eric Greitens will face off Nov. 8 in Missouri’s gubernatorial election. The Associated Press asked the candidates about several high-profile state revenue and spending issues. Here’s how they responded:
Do you believe Missouri needs to raise more money for highway maintenance and improvements and, if so, how would you pay for it?
KOSTER: “The Missouri Department of Transportation has been preparing for some time to show Missourians that they have been good stewards of the resources that we have sent them. In recent years, MoDOT has laid off approximately 1,200 workers, sold 700 pieces of heavy equipment, closed 124 maintenance barns and three division offices around the state. All of the money that has been saved as a result of those decisions has been put into road contracts. Nonetheless, Missouri is still approximately $200 million underfunded in maintaining the existing 34,000 miles of road and as much as $500 million beneath where we were in 2008 and 2009, when Missouri was at the high point of the Amendment 3 bonding revenue.
“Yes, I believe that MoDOT is going to require additional revenue in order to keep Missouri’s roads in good condition and to repair the 681 bridges — most of which are in rural Missouri — so that we can keep them in good operating condition. The issue is too important for any one party to decide independently and so, immediately after the election, I would look forward to sitting down with Republican and Democratic leaders, particularly those leaders who have a great deal of experience in the issue — like Mike Kehoe and Doug Libla over in the Senate, Todd Richardson in the House — to develop a proposal that we would put before Missouri voters in November of 2018. I think it’s also important that once that consensus is reached, the chief executive of the state puts it on the November ballot and not on the August ballot, and actively campaigns on behalf of the Missouri Department of Transportation to explain to Missourians why good roads are critical to our economic development future, particularly in rural Missouri.”
GREITENS: “This is one of the big differences between me and my opponent, Chris Koster, in this election. Chris Koster has been involved in politics for over 22 years and his focus is always on taxing people more. I do not believe that we need to raise taxes on the people of Missouri. When you talk to the people of Missouri, you talk to 100 people and 95 of them will tell you we need to be spending more money on roads, bridges and ports. But you ask those same voters if they trust career politicians like Chris Koster to spend that money wisely and all of them will tell you no. We need to have a governor who’s going to practice fiscal restraint, who’s going to rein in out-of-control spending, who’s going to put an end to special-interest giveaways, so that we can focus people’s tax moneys on the priorities of the people of Missouri.”
There are two tobacco tax increases on the Missouri ballot this November. Do you support either the proposed 60-cent-a-pack tax increase for early childhood programs or the 23-cent-a-pack tax increase for transportation?
KOSTER: “I intend to vote no on both of these proposals. I’m very supportive of early childhood education, but unfortunately have come to the conclusion that the Raise Your Hands for Kids proposal is not well-constructed. It pains me to come to this conclusion because I feel so passionately about early childhood education. However, the reality is that this is a cigarette tax that is to some degree drafted and financed by cigarette companies themselves. More importantly, it creates a second education bureaucracy in Missouri. I truly doubt that we need two separate educational bureaucracies in our state, and there are various constitutional questions with the proposal. The National Education Association, the Rural Education Association and Washington University all hold similar views. When the NEA and Washington University — two of the most pro-education organizations in Missouri — find themselves on the opposite side of an educational funding proposal, it certainly carries a lot of weight and says a lot.”
Should Missouri expand Medicaid eligibility to cover more low-income adults?
KOSTER: “Yes. The federal government attempts to send Missouri a $2 billion check every year, which the leadership of the General Assembly figuratively tears up and throws away uncashed. The leadership in the General Assembly is trying to send a signal to Washington, D.C., that they don’t like the manner in which the Affordable Care Act was passed back in 2010. However, this signal that they are sending has failed to keep open hospitals which have closed across our state, including the hospitals at Osceola, at Mount Vernon, at Springfield, at Farmington and in Reynolds County. There is no doubt that an annual investment of $2 billion would go a long way toward keeping these hospitals open and toward strengthening health care across our state.
“Investments of the Affordable Care Act money will create 40,000 new jobs in Missouri at a time where good-paying jobs above the median wage are very meaningful, and these jobs won’t just be in St. Louis and Kansas City and Springfield and Columbia. They will also be in places where the state of Missouri has difficulty getting economic development and health care money, such as Parma and Bernie and Kahoka and Tarkio. Finally, Missourians, I hope, will recognize that this $2 billion that we are refusing is our money — it is money that Missourians have paid in taxes to the federal government and which the federal government is trying to turn around and give back to us, and it’s in the best interest of our state to invest it in hospitals and health care across Missouri.”
GREITENS: “We are not going to expand Obamacare when I am governor, and this is one of the big differences between me and my opponent. Chris Koster supports Obamacare. Chris Koster wants to expand Obamacare. He wants to tax the people of Missouri for Obamacare. He’s called expanding Obamacare his top priority. I am opposed to expanding Obamacare. When you look at what’s happened in states like Ohio, their program was supposed to cost Ohio $3.9 billion. In fact, it’s cost them over $6.8 billion. Obamacare expansion is actually bankrupting states, and it’s just one of the examples of the series of broken promises that have been part of Obamacare. In Obamacare, people were told if they liked their doctor they could keep their doctor, and that wasn’t true. They were told that their premiums would go down; that also wasn’t true. Obamacare has busted the budget in a lot of these other states, and when I’m governor we are not going to expand Obamacare.”