Home Politics State House candidates discuss funding in town-hall debate

State House candidates discuss funding in town-hall debate

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Candidates for the state House of Representatives discussed state and local funds during a debate held in Athens Public Library Tuesday night.

Incumbent Rep. Debbie Phillips (D-Albany) and challenger Yolan Dennis (R-Watertown) discussed issues related to District 94, the House district for Meigs county and parts of Washington, Vinton and Athens counties, including funding for local schools.

“I think we need to invest in our local schools. I think we need to restore the money that was cut. I think we need to go back to really looking at what it takes to provide opportunities for our kids,” Phillips said, referencing budget cuts proposed by Governor John Kasich in 2013.

She then suggested redirecting funds currently used for transportation into other education expenses.

“In rural southeastern Ohio, transportation eats up a much larger chunk of the school budget,” she said. “We’ve got districts where the buses travel 3,000 miles a day. And so if we could appropriately fund the transportation costs, it would allow us to channel the money that is available for schools into the classroom, into teachers, computers, textbooks and supplies that we need to make sure our kids have similar levels of opportunity to other students across the state.”

In response, Dennis criticized Phillips for not have a solution to the general funding problem.

“I would like to ask Debbie, what has her plan been, why hasn’t she ever introduced a bill to address the education funding problem?,” she said. “Because ever since my oldest child started school, they’ve had this issue with formula and haven’t been able to come up with a formula… So what has been done? Nothing has been done.”

Dennis continued, saying she believes the answer is to gather “all the experts, educators (and) parents” and establish a funding model with them.

“The funding has been cut, and we need to have a remedy for that but no one has been able to come up with that. That’s something we need to work really really hard on, because in southeastern Ohio, our schools are hurting.”

She also said she believes some funds need to be restored to local governments, referring to cuts to local funding in previous budgets from Gov. Kasich.

“The local townships, local governments do need some of that money restored. I believe the cuts were too deep,” Dennis said. “A lot of townships don’t have any industry at all, so they are really hurting to keep their roads repaired, and just to perform basic services to their townships.”

Phillips also said she wants to restore the funds, and criticized Kasich for the cuts, which allowed him to lower income taxes.

“That was part of how he paid for his income tax cut that was included in his first budget. Essentially a shell game pulling money out of our communities and redistributing to the wealthiest individuals in the state,” she said.

Candidates also discussed recent Medicaid expansion, as part of the Affordable Care Act, which allowed for many Athens County residents to qualify for health insurance.

Phillips voiced her support of the expansion, explaining that it allows for increased primary care.

“I think it’s far better for have people to have access to primary care than to show up in the ER when they are facing a worse situation in the most expensive care setting available,” she said.

While Dennis, who works as a registered nurse, said she wants health insurance to be available to those who need it, she also expressed concern over the cost of the expansion.

“We do not turn anybody away at our office depending on their ability to pay. We just don’t do that,” she said. “But my big concern is down the road. When this money is gone, who is going to pay for this expansion then? Where is the cost going to come from? It’s going to come from taxpayers. And that’s going to be a big burden. That is going to be a big expense when that money runs out.”

Another issue the candidates talked about was safety concerning drinking water supplies near natural gas drilling locations and injection wells. Phillips specifically expressed concern about out-of-state waste and Class II injection wells which she said do not require monitoring wells.

“I am concerned about the amount of out-of-state waste that Ohio is taking, and I am particularly concerned about the fact that class two injection wells are taking waste from hydraulic fracturing operations,” she said. “I don’t know if there is any way to know if that has been in the ground for decades already whether the materials being injected into the formation that (Ohio Department of Natural Resources) believes it is being injected into in the absence of monitoring wells. I think that it’s just incredibly important that we have adequate oversight and monitoring to prevent danger to our communities.”

But Dennis said she did not see drilling or injection wells as issues because of the depths of both.

“When you consider the depth of the river, and you’re going to be drilling thousands and thousands and thousands of feet underneath there,” she said. “The wells have layers, several layers, of protection. There are safeguards in place. We have excellent regulations in Ohio, and that is also the case for the injection wells.”

The debate, sponsored by the League of Women Voters of Athens County, was part of a series of candidate forums. The next forum is Oct. 28 from 6:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. between candidates for Athens County Common Pleas Judge George McCarthy and Herman Carson in the Athens Public Library.

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