Smart Decision 2012: Kurt Schaefer, Republican for Senate District 19

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COLUMBIA - KOMU 8 News continues its series of interview with the candidates for office in the November general election with Kurt Schaefer, the Republican candidate running for re-election to the 19th State Senate seat.

  • Republican member of State Senate, elected in 2008.
  • Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee
  • Serves on the Senate Committees on Education and Commerce, Consumer Protection, Energy and Environment.
  • Partner in Lathrop and Gage Law Firm in Columbia.

My first question is, what life experiences have you had that make you a better candidate?

Well, first of all, in my private sector, we're a lay legislature which means most people in the general assembly have some other employment. I'm a lawyer, I'm an environmental litigator, and before that I was a prosecutor with the Attorney General's office and I think that my background as a prosecutor and also as a lawyer, helping solve some very complex problems in are state, as a public lawyer and a private lawyer I think makes me pretty well-suited to be a State Senator.

The other thing is, you know, I'm a Dad. I have three kids in the public school in addition to my professional life, I think my family life sets me up pretty well to be a senator as well. I understand what it takes for families to get by, especially now with the economy being what it is, and I think that also makes me a good senator.

Since the senate seat is now made up of Boone County and Cooper Counties, what will you do to ensure you're focusing on both counties?

Well, you know, when I was elected in 2008, the district was all of Boone County and all of Randolph County. After redistricting, obviously, we had too many people basically, too much population. So, they shifted it from Randolph County to Cooper County which has a little bit fewer in population. But, it's very similar in that it's a county, Cooper County is a county that is predominantly agricultural which one large town, that being Boonville, much like Moberly was the single town in in Randolph County. So they're very similar.

I've had experience the last four years representing both a community like Boone County in Columbia, which has a large professional community and University, along with a county that is predominantly agricultural. Agriculture is our largest industry here in the state of Missouri and in my private practice as a lawyer, I also represent a lot of farmers and a lot of agricultural companies, so agriculture is very important for me as well as for the state of Missouri.

Okay. What is the most important issue that needs to be focused on in the nineteenth district?

Well I am the Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, which means for the portion of the budget that gets crafted in the senate, that's my committee that does that. I have to carry all those bills, which are 13 core bills and it depends, usually two additional capital improvement bills on top of that. I have to shepherd those bills through the committee. Basically, look at the state budget to decide what we're going to spend on those budget items, carry those bills on the floor and get those bills passed. One of the biggest fights that we actually had in the General Assembly last year was the fight I had on the floor with my own party getting those bills through because there were some who didn't want to spend quite as much on some of the things.

But, you know, I have to be very fiscally responsible and look at the revenue we have. I think the most important thing for the 19th senate district in the upcoming cycle, not just the up and coming session but the few years to come, is what we spend on public education both K-12. Obviously, we have the University of Missouri here which is the largest employer in Boone County. But, on top of that, you know, we have a lot of great public K-12 institutions as well, we have a lot of teachers in our community. And I think as far as moving our economy forward which is really one of the big challenges that we're facing along with all of the other states, as well as the country in general, is, you know, how do we develop economic opportunities that we've lost in the last four years, since 2008 when the economy really turned bad.

I think public education is the best thing that we can do to have a trained work force and have a district that people want to keep their businesses in and also want to relocate in. I think funding for public education is going to be our top priority, not only in the up and coming session, but I think also in the next few years.

Okay, that's funny, my next question is, what is your stance on public education funding?

Well, the interesting thing is, as chairman of the Appropriations Committee, I put more money in the K-12 budget for the state of Missouri than we've ever had in the history of the state of Missouri. It's the most money ever for K-12. Now, don't get me wrong, it's not enough. When we crafted a funding formula, it was before I was in the General Assembly where the funding formula was changed. We determined what was the appropriate amount of funding for K-12. Because of the downturn of the economy, we're not there. We're short on the funding formula. But even with the economy as tight as it is, and keep in mind, we're $600 million short for the 2013 budget that's the fiscal year that we're in right now, from where we were in 2008. We dropped almost $2 billion from 2008 to 2010 in general revenue. You know, right now, for 2013, it's about $7.5 billion for general revenue. But, we're still $600 million short of where we were in 2008.

The important thing to keep in mind is, that general revenue, which comes predominantly from income tax, but the next amount is sales tax, but it's all almost income tax, that money funds generally three things. It funds public education both K-12 and higher ed, at about $3 billion. It funds the state share of Medicaid, what we have to pay in addition to the federal government, for the state of Missouri, it's just over $3 billion. About $680 million for prisons, and after that there's not a lot left. There's just a few other things that that goes to. But what that shows you is, it's a constant struggle to make sure that we're keeping public education both K-12 and higher ed our top priority. Especially when the budget is tight and and we don't have as much money as we would like to have and certainly not as much money as we had in the past to spend on things, including public education.

Okay, in regards to higher education as well, do you have a solution to lessen tuition and improve the quality of education?

Well, I'll give you a good example. One thing I did, and I'm very proud of the fact that I am bipartisan, I passed a lot of bills. I've passed over 50 bills, sponsored and passed over 50 bills in the last four years. I've done that with republicans, democrats, working with the house and my colleagues, in the senate. One thing we're able to do for example, for the 2013 budget which we started working on in January of 2012, the governor had proposed a $106 million cut to higher education. It would have been a 12 percent cut. That would have been the highest cut ever for higher education in the history of the state of Missouri. Working with Rep. Kelly, who's a democrat from here in Columbia, we were able to undo that cut. And, I'll give the governor credit. The governor has a very difficult budget to deal with, just as we do. But, you know, we don't always share the same priorities. I think the governor is being fiscally responsible, but I didn't agree with the cut to higher education. I think the money should've come from somewhere else. I think, working with representative Kelly, we were able to undo that entire $106 million cut. You know, the last time we saw that, again, the downturn of the budget in 2008, that we're still dealing with, again we're still $600 million short. That downturn is unlike anything this state has ever seen. We've never had a budget downturn like that in the history of the state. Back in 2003, there was a slight downtick in the otherwise general growth of general revenue. And Governor Holden at the time, Mary Still was his policy advisor at the time, they had a slight budget shortfall and they went back at the end of the budget process, took it all out of higher education. It was $100 million cut to education. That, to this day, is the largest cut ever, for the University of Missouri and higher education. Students' tuition today still reflects that cut.

Had Chris Kelly and I not been able to undo that $106 million cut this year, tuition would've gone up substantially. I don't think the state is funding higher education where it needs to be. There are a lot of reasons for that. Obviously, with the downturn of the economy, we don't have as much general revenue which is what goes to higher education. But also, we have 13 four-year campuses for higher institution. Now, you look at a state like Iowa or some of our surrounding states that have three, four, the pie is really getting cut up too small. I think in the long term, if we're seriously going to fund public education where we need to, we need to look at how many public, four-year institutions we have in the state. Now, the two-year institutions, the community colleges, they're divided by geographic region. So, you don't get all of that duplication issue you get in the four-year institutions and we need to look at that issue. for higher ed.

Okay, this is kind of switching gears a little bit. If the cigarette tax passes in November, will it help or hurt District 19?

Oh well, it will help. I mean, keep in mind. The way the ballot initiative is worded, the additional money that comes in from cigarette tax goes to three places. It goes to K-12 education, it goes to higher education, it goes into basically the tobacco trust fund. That's a fund that already exists. It's funded right now from money from the Tobacco Master's Settlement which was done several years ago before I was in the General Assembly. I'll tell you what though, I did, two years ago, pass a bill to close a loophole in the Master Settlement Agreement to make sure Missouri was no longer the dumping ground for low-cost cigarettes.

So we've done that piece. Bringing the tax up to where we are competitive with other surrounding states, that's the next piece the voters will have a shot at that. I've come out and said I support that. I worked with the American Cancer Society, the Lung Association, to get that on the ballot. I was legislator of the year for both those organizations. I'm very proud of that. That money though, the portion, about twenty percent goes into the tobacco trust fund. That money will go to smoking cessation programs which we already put master settlement money into, but also again, it's divided between K-12 and higher ed. The thing that you have to watch for is any time, and it's historically always been the case either with the governor or the General Assembly, when you have something that's funded with general revenue, such as K-12 education, or higher ed, and suddenly you get a dedicated funding source, which means, aside from the general revenue, you have money coming in through a dedicated source which is what the tobacco tax would be, there is move, almost always when those circumstances occur, to supplant the money.

So, for example, let's say that higher education was going to get $250 million from the tobacco tax. Whether it's the governor, whether it's the general assembly, there will very likely be some attempt to supplant that money. In other words, when the additional $250 million goes in for higher ed from the tobacco tax, a corresponding $250 million in general revenue is pulled out and spent somewhere else. I understand that's tempting for some legislatures and the governor probably as well. (10:15) I think when the voters, if the voters do in fact pass the tobacco tax, I think the way the language is worded, is clearly the attention of the voting public to have an increase in higher education and K-12 education as well as a result of that tax. The key is going to be to make sure that we don't allow that money to be supplanted. And as Appropriations Chairman in the Senate, I'm in a very good position to make sure that doesn't happen.

Okay. Healthcare is a major issue in this election. What do you believe is the best solution for Boone and Cooper counties?

Well, keep in mind right now, let's say you live in Boone County, everyone right now in Boone County has access to healthcare. Everything from dental, to chemotherapy, the FQHC, which is over on Worley. Now, what we have is, again, you've got that $7.5 million of general revenue for this year. And as I said, the majority of that $3 billion for public education, just over $3 billion for the state share of Medicaid. You constantly have tension between funding for Medicaid and funding for K-12 education.

The way the Medicaid program is set up, the federal government requires us to increase spending in every single year in Medicaid, for two reasons. One is cost to continue. If you have the same populations receiving the same level of services on Medicaid from one year to the next, it keeps getting more expensive because the same services get more expensive every year. On top of that, there are provisions in the Medicaid law that require us to spend money to sign people up for Medicaid and to grow our Medicaid roles. We call that case load growth. So, as a result of that, just in the last four years, if you add up the federal government share and the state share of Medicaid, the state share in Missouri, Medicaid has grown $1.6 billion in the state of Missouri last four years, mostly to the detriment of public education.

Everyone wants to make sure that everyone has access to healthcare. But what we have to make sure we do, is we don't decimate our public education system to pay for it. The big issue will be, do we do Medicaid expansion as required by the Affordable Care Act or Obamacare as some people like to call it. The question there is, the existing population or Medicaid in the state of Missouri, which is about 900,000 Medicaid recipients, almost one in five Missourians, for every dollar that we spend on Medicaid patients, again, state pays 40 cents on that dollar, federal government pays 60 cents. Expansion or not, that's going to continue to be the case and that program will get more expensive every year. Now, if we do expansion, which is required by the Affordable Care Act, there is some additional level of population that goes on top of that. It's estimated between 250,000 and 410,000 people.

What the Affordable Care Act says, in general, that for the expanded population, the existing population we have will still be a 60-40 match. So we still have to come up with state tax dollars with our 40 cents on every dollar. For that new population, the federal government says we'll pay for 100 percent of them. But what they don't know, and nobody knows, the federal government Health and Human Services who actually has to promulgate the rules to carry out the federal statute, they have not done that yet. So what no one knows is what the federal government, they'll pay 100 percent of something but we don't know 100 percent of what. And so, some of the preliminary guidance documents that HHS, health and human services and federal government has put out there, for example, they may only cover one drug per category. So if you have a mental illness, and you're on two psychotropic medications, the federal government will pay for 100 percent of one but they won't pay for the other. Also, if you're on statin drug, or two statin drugs for blood pressure, they'll pay for one but they won't pay for the other. Well what that means is, the state of Missouri, with our tax dollars, is going to pay for the other drugs or the other things that aren't covered. So, there will be some corresponding increased cost. We don't know what that is yet.

I think personally the federal government probably designed it so we don't know so everybody makes the decision before they fully understand what the cost is. I just don't think that we can make that decision until we fully understand what the cost is. Because whatever that increased cost is, and there will be an increased cost, I don't think anyone says there won't be some level of increased cost, that can not occur to the detriment of public education. And we simply don't have all the information we need to make that decision.

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