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State senate incumbent, Democratic challenger square off in televised debate

 

By JIM BROOKS
Nelson County Gazette / WBRT Radio

Tuesday, Oct. 23, 2018 — The candidates seeking the 14th District state senate seat discussed their differing points of view on a variety of topics at their televised debate Monday night at the Nelson County Civic Center.

SEN. JIMMY HIGDON (R)

Incumbent state Sen. Jimmy Higdon (R) and his Democratic challenger, Stephanie Compton, faced off in front of the live audience during their debate sponsored by Standard Communications and PLG 13.

In his opening statement, Higdon emphasized his understanding that he serves in Frankfort to serve his constituents.

“Ive not forgotten that this seat belongs to you, the people,” Higdon said. “God gave me a gift, and that gift is to help people.”

Compton said her interest in politics was fueled by the EpiPen shortage and price increases that directly affected one of her family members. She said she was either going to run for magistrate in her home county of Spencer, or state senator. She decided to run for a state senate seat because it would allow her to do the most good.

Compton said the differences between the Democratic and Republican parties have been evident in the past two years during which Republicans have controlled both the House and Senate in the General Assembly.

STEPHANIE COMPTON (D)

Democrats did not support Republican initiatives like right-to-work or charter schools, she said.

Higdon said that he is a moderate Republican who votes independently of his party. “When I vote, I vote for the right reasons,” he said. “Party is important, but its not the only thing. I serve the people of the 14th senate district.”

PENSION REFORM. With Senate Bill 151 awaiting a decision by the state Supreme Court regarding its constitutionality, Higdon said action by the next General Assembly will have to wait the high court’s ruling.

“If they find it unconstitutional, then its back to the drawing board, and we’ll address that in the next session.”

There’s no rush to take any action yet because the state has allocated the required funding — $500 million per year — to go into the teacher retirement system.

“We’ll have plenty of time to look at Senate Bill 151 and open that debate back up,” he said.

Compton, citing figures from the Kentucky Center for Economic Policy, said the old plan would be ok as long as it was adequately funded.

Higdon said one of the issues about how the pensions got into trouble was because the actuarial figures used a faulty methodology that did not adequately fund the state retirement systems.

“The only way out of this pension issue is to pay the unfunded liability,” he said. In the 2014 budget, the state contributed an extra $1 billion to the pension systems. In the 2016 budget, the state contributed an extra $2.3 billion extra, and in 2018, that amount will an extra $3.4 billion — 15 percent of the state’s overall budget.

STATE ROLE IN HEALTH. Compton said the state should continue its efforts to improve the health of Kentuckians through education efforts through the state’s health departments and public schools.

Higdon said some government assistant programs — including SNAP — contribute to childhood obesity because you can’t legislate eating healthy.

He believes smoking bans should be left to local communities, and not decided in the General Assembly.

INCOME TAX REFORM. Higdon defended the General Assembly’s tax reform efforts, which he said reduced the state income tax rate from 6 to 5 percent, while adding sales tax to certain services.

Reducing the income tax rate allows wage earners keep more of the money they make, and the state needs to expand its sales taxes on more services, he said.

Compton said large corporations receive tax breaks to locate their factories and distribution centers in Kentucky, then don’t pay their employees a living wage. She said the tax code changes seemed to help the rich more than the middle class.

Higdon said the tax reform wasn’t perfect, and promised the General Assembly will address some of those issues — like having non-profits pay sales taxes — at the next session.

Compton said she would support exploring a more progressive tax system that would allow those who make more to pay more.

Higdon said his job as a state senator is to make Kentucky policy that will attract new business and industry. Citing economic successes in Indiana and Tennessee, Higdon said it is necessary “to have an attractive tax code.”

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