There were no clear winners of Wednesday’s Republican gubernatorial debate, but both candidates were able to clearly differentiate their policy positions.
Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves and former state Supreme Court justice Bill Waller battled over such topics as Medicaid expansion, infrastructure, the economy and teacher pay.
The most pointed difference of the night was when both were asked what it meant to be a true conservative.
Reeves said being a conservative to him meant limited government, low taxes and more freedom.
Waller said that his plans were true conservative plans because they were the pillars of economic development and that a true conservative wouldn’t allow 31 rural hospitals to close and choose not to fill teacher vacancies.
Reeves said that he’s opposed to expanding Medicaid (which he called and has called Obamacare) because it’d mean 300,000 more Mississippians would be dependent on government.
He also cited information about Louisiana’s disastrous Medicaid expansion, where the number of new signups was vastly underestimated and three in five Louisianans have moved from private to public insurance.
Waller agreed with the 300,000 new Medicaid participant figure from Reeves and countered that information he’d seen from a Brookings Institution study that expanding Medicaid would help Mississippi’s 31 rural hospitals financially. He also said expanding Medicaid would have a billion dollar impact on the state’s economy.
A 2016 study by the Congressional Budget Office throws cold water on that viewpoint, saying that Medicaid expansion would not “substantially alter” the solvency of hospitals nationwide.
On infrastructure, Waller said his plan was a conservative, one-for-one tax swap, eliminating the state’s four percent income tax bracket in exchange for an increase in the state’s gasoline tax. He criticized Reeves about using lottery funds for infrastructure, saying that you can’t build roads on fluctuating revenues.
Reeves countered that a gasoline tax hike would add up to $240 million and that doing a swap would be a net $80 million per year tax hike on working Mississippi families.
Both candidates agreed that a teacher pay hike was needed and both want to increase the average salary to the southeastern average.