GOP candidates keep the gloves on in Americans for Prosperity debate

04/29/2015 05:47 PM

BOWLING GREEN — Three Republican gubernatorial candidates stayed civil during a debate hosted by the small-government advocacy group Americans for Prosperity on Tuesday, honing messages and themes they’ve frequently reiterated on the campaign trail.

Much of the debate at Western Kentucky University focused on health care, particularly the state’s health exchange kynect and Gov. Steve Beshear’s decision to expand Medicaid eligibility. Of the three participating in Tuesday evening’s candidate forum, Hal Heiner said the state should offer some form of health coverage to low-income residents who gained coverage through expansion.

Kentucky “can’t afford” to operate kynect, “but at the same time we can’t kick 330,000 people off of their health insurance without a plan to take its place,” the former Louisville Metro Council member said. Other states, such as Tennessee, have worked with the federal government in finding ways to offer coverage to the poor who don’t qualify for traditional Medicaid.

Tennessee has “presented a plan that has zero impact on their state budget,” Heiner said. “We’ve seen another state in the south where they’ve proposed actually using the Medicaid expansion, tying it to workforce training to get the working people on this Medicaid expansion to get them the training so that they can get a job and get off Medicaid expansion.”

Beshear has praised Medicaid expansion as a potential economic boon for Kentucky, as some 375,000 newly eligible residents enrolled in the program in its first year.The administration expects the expanded population will create some 40,000 jobs and generate $30 billion in the state economy through fiscal year 2021.

But those newly eligible residents come with a price tag. Beshear’s administration expects Medicaid expansion will cost almost $250 million in the next fiscal year, although the governor anticipates those expenses will be offset by nearly $512 million in savings.

For the GOP candidates jockeying for the governorship, the hefty cost is too much for the state to bear.

“The problem with free health care is somebody has to pay for it,” said Agriculture Commissioner James Comer, noting his support for re-enrollment periods for Medicaid recipients and rolling back eligibility to pre-Affordable Care Act levels. “It’s not really free.”

Louisville investment manager Matt Bevin said the state cannot afford to have a quarter of its population on Medicaid.

“Those that truly have need should have access, but every time we provide access to somebody who doesn’t have that same level of need, it comes at the very expense of those who do have the need,” Bevin said.

“We are blessed to live in a state and in a country where we have the ability to provide for the least among ourselves, and we should continue to do so. But we need to be very thoughtful, very intentional with respect to exactly how the taxpayers’ dollars are allocated, and I will absolutely dismantle the kynect program.”

The candidates also discussed a pet issue of AFP in this year’s legislative session – the General Assembly’s decision to set a floor on the wholesale price of gasoline, on which the gas tax is established, and keeping wholesale prices from dropping more than 10 percent in a year. The group has railed against the General Assembly’s vote on what Beshear, transportation officials and many lawmakers said would stabilize the state’s Road Fund.

Bevin, Comer and Heiner all criticized the political nature of Road Fund allocations.

Comer, a former state lawmaker, said the state should institute tax reform to determine a new funding mechanism for infrastructure projects.

“The problem with the six-year road plan is it’s what’s called overprogrammed, meaning there are significantly more roads to be built than there is money to pay for the roads,” he said. “So what happens is the governor and the transportation secretary , at their discretion, gets to pick and choose the winners and losers.”

Former Kentucky Supreme Court Justice Will T. Scott did not attend Tuesday’s debate because of a campaign swing through eastern Kentucky.

Video from Bowling Green by cn|2’s Chris Bratton.


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