Schaefer, Still debate economic issues at Chamber of Commerce forum

Thursday, October 18, 2012 | 9:59 p.m. CDT; updated 12:38 p.m. CDT, Friday, October 19, 2012

*This story has been modified to correct the description of the 19th Senate District.

COLUMBIA – Candidates Kurt Schaefer and Mary Still sparred over economic issues, including how to channel more money to the University of Missouri and how to attract business to the Columbia area, at a public forum hosted at the Columbia Chamber of Commerce on Thursday.

Education and jobs are interconnected, Still said. Revenue from a new cigarette tax on the ballot could boost funds for higher education and promote jobs, she said.

Schaefer and Still are competing for the 19th District state Senate seat, which encompasses Boone and Cooper counties.*

Audience member Betty Tice asked how the candidates intended to protect education from cuts in the state's general fund.

Schaefer, the incumbent, responded that Columbia needs someone with political connections who will fight for higher education. "As long as I'm there" in the Senate, education cuts "are not going to happen," he said.

Still said Missouri is almost last in the nation for higher education spending, 48th out of 50. The most recent data from the Department of Education shows that Missouri was 29th in 2009-2010 in terms of state appropriations.

She also pointed out that Schaefer was unable to secure legislative confirmation for Columbia attorney Craig Van Matre on the University of Missouri System Board of Curators.

Schaefer said that during his tenure, Missouri spent more on higher education than during any other time in its history. State funding for higher education increased from about $951 million to $993 million from 2007-2008 to 2009-2010, according to the U.S. Department of Education.

The candidates also clashed over tax credits for businesses. Schaefer argued such financial incentives helped attract IBM and encouraged Carfax to hire more employees in Columbia. Still said the credits cost the state about $600 million a year.

Schaefer listed some of the tax credits his rival might cut, such as the self-employment health insurance credit, the ground fuel credit and the market credit, all of which support business growth, he said.

The candidates agreed that Interstate 70 should be improved. Still said she intended to use bonding to pay for the construction. Schaefer said he would offer a bonding proposal cosponsored with state Rep. Chris Kelly, as well as a diesel fuel tax.

After the candidates' dust-up, the only two audience members who asked questions favored Schaefer. Tice, who is a Realtor, had asked about preserving money for education. She said Still did not clearly answer her question about preventing cuts in the general fund.

"Honestly, I wasn't sure what Mary was talking about," Tice said.

Kari Dowell, a manager for an accounting firm, asked the candidates about improving I-70. Dowell said she preferred Schaefer's answer because he showed he was working with colleagues in Jefferson City.

Supervising editor is Scott Swafford.

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