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Ternan, Kless tackle issues at candidate forum
Two of the three candidates for Texas Senate District 8 tackled education, the state deficit and water issues at the League of Women Voters' candidate forum Oct. 20.
Democratic candidate Jack Ternan and Libertarian candidate Ed Kless both attended the forum, which was held at Schimelpfenig Library. Republican candidate Ken Paxton could not make it due to a family commitment, a campaign spokesperson said Tuesday.
The first question, submitted by a member of the audience, asked the candidates what changes they might propose to Medicaid and the Children's Health Insurance Program given the fact that Texas falls behind compared to other states in the number of residents with health insurance.
Kless said the notion the government or employers should be responsible for providing health insurance is "a mistake of history" going back to the price-fixing practices of World War II, a time when employers had to offer bigger and better benefits packages to stay competitive for employees.
"We need to go back to all of us being responsible for what we are, not having our brother be responsible for us," he said.
Ternan said Texas needs to adopt the expansion of Medicaid offered under the Affordable Care Act, asserting that the federal government will pick up most of the cost and that most residents are already paying for indigent health care whether they know it or not.
"If hospitals can't collect [the cost of service] from the patient ... they collect it from governments or from the privately insured patients," he said. "So you're already paying for that health care. You're just paying for it out of a different pocket. If you have Medicaid covering the costs, then people from around the country will be contributing to the cost of care in Texas."
With regard to public education, Ternan said funding for public schools, which was reduced by $5.4 billion in the last legislative session, can be replaced by getting rid of "unnecessary" tax exemptions for the oil and gas industry, a step that would provide $1 billion in additional annual revenue for schools.
Kless said that describing taxation as revenue misses the greater point of government spending.
"That's what the state views it as -- revenue," he said. "... How are we going to find a way for the state to live within its means, just like you and I have to do when we budget at home, and when businesses need to budget for things?"
The question of state education funding continued when an audience member asked the candidates what changes they might make to the state's school financing system
In addition to raising more revenue, Ternan said, public schools should be able to opt out of the state accountability systems. Instead of being subject to statewide standardized testing, districts could "pay their own way" using local property taxes as their sole source of revenue.
"Ask the voters in Plano, do you want to pay a little bit more in property taxes in order to be able to run your schools the way you want to and give up the state money, or do you want to keep getting mandates from Austin that you don't really like?" Ternan said. "... Me, personally, I would like to see independence for our independent school districts."
Kless said the solution is to make sure the customers of education -- the parents -- are in charge of where their dollars go.
"What we need to do is either have a tax credit system, which would be best, or alternatively a voucher system in which the money goes with the kid to a particular school," he said. "In Texas, we have to provide for public, free schools; not free public schools; according to the constitution."
When the candidates were asked how they would protect and sustain the state's water sources in light of the 2011 drought, Ternan said the Rainy Day Fund has exceeded the constitutional cap, providing the state with a great source of revenue for water projects.
"I'm a big believer in brackish groundwater desalination," he said. "We have a lot of water underground in Texas. You can't drink it as it is, but if you bring it up and desalinate it, you can drink it. ... Desalination from groundwater and building reservoirs costs the same per acre-foot of water."
Kless said there is an economic device used to allocate scare resources: price.
"Go into a Target and you'll see 10,000 different products on the shelves, all there because price allocated the scarce resources," he said. "We think that government is the only thing that can do things of these nature, and it's simply not true. ... The government's just the middleman in all this. There are certain things the government can function to help; the allocation of the land, for example, but it's very limited in what's necessary."
When the candidates were asked what the best way would be to address the state's transportation needs, Ternan said the state should increase the gas tax by 10 cents per gallon.
"It's been at 20 cents a gallon since 1991," he said. "... If we went up to 30 cents per gallon, we could actually meet our road-building needs in this state, and a lot of people wouldn't even notice it at 50 dollars over the course of the year for your average driver."
Kless said there are solutions to transportation problems, albeit ones that require less government regulation. If Texas allows driverless cars, a new technology that allows cars to drive themselves, the state could become a magnet for such industries, he said.
"The throughput on [current] roads increases by four to sixfold when you allow the computer to take over the driving function of the car, and we'll have fewer accidents overall. We have to change the law in the state of Texas to allow this technology. We actually have to reduce the number of statutes in order for that to occur."
Early voting is going on now and will last until Nov. 2. Early voting locations in Plano include Carpenter Park Recreation Center, 6701 Coit Road; Christ United Methodist Church, 3101 Coit Road; Haggard Library, 2501 Coit Road; Harrington Library, 1501 18th Street; Davis Library, 7501 Independence Parkway; Parr Library, 6200 Windhaven Parkway; and the Plano ISD Administration Building, 2700 West 15th Street.
Polling hours are 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. from Oct. 22-26, 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Oct. 27, 1 p.m. to 6 p.m. on Oct. 28 and 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. from Oct. 29-Nov. 2.