Schaefer Attacks Berman’s Record
By TIM MONZINGO
Incumbent state Rep. Leo Berman, R-Tyler, and Texas House of Representatives hopeful Matt Schaefer squared off Monday night during the Grassroots America -- We the People debate.
About 150 people lined seats inside the Cornerstone Assembly of God sanctuary to sit in on a four-part, Lincoln-Douglas style discussion between the two candidates. JoAnn Fleming, the organization's executive director, said the debate focused on four areas: Texas' fiscal state, budget solutions for 2013 and beyond, runaway social service spending and education finance and reform.
Twenty minutes were allowed for the first two topics and the second two were allotted 15 minutes of discussion between the two candidates, she said.
"It gives voters more information because it's a real conversation," she said of a format intended to be more conversational than question and answer. "We're going to make this a practice in the future."
state's fiscal house
Schaefer took the offensive early on, attacking Berman's approval of the state's budget last year, which Schaefer called full of "smoke and mirrors" and not transparent.
He also contended that, in Berman's 14 years in the House of Representatives, the state's power and spending had grown steadily.
"In 14 years that you've been in office, you've never voted against a budget and you can look over the last 20 years, you can see state spending has ... gone up and up and up," Schaefer said. "You're responsible for that growth in government."
Berman repeatedly countered by asserting that Texans had not seen tax increases in his tenure and that each budget he'd voted for had been balanced and approved by the state comptroller's office.
He contended that voting not to approve a budget does little to curb government spending because the money is already there. Where change is affected is in committees, which shift funds from one area to another, not on the house floor when approval of the budget is sought, he said.
Schaefer attacked Berman's vote against a transparency measure during the previous session, which the incumbent defended by saying that the amendment would have added an excessive and ineffective work load to legislators who couldn't tackle it in the allotted time frame.
"As far as I'm concerned, there is only one budget solution and that's the budget compact," Berman said, referring to an agreement proposed by Gov. Rick Perry that lays out certain agreements for legislators to agree to.
The compact, which Berman said he signed, emphasizes: no higher taxes, stricter limits on spending, truth-in-budgeting, cutting of wasteful programs, and keeping a well-funded emergency reserve, or "rainy day" fund, he said.
Schaefer attacked Berman's creation of the Texas Residential
Construction Commission, a now-defunct governmental oversight body regulating the construction industry. He said in sponsoring such an organization, he was working to enlarge government, violating fundamental conservative principals.
Berman and Schaefer agreed that significant changes to the budget needed to be made to make sure Texas remained financially stable. Schaefer contended that many of the budget problems impacting the state financially have "been going on for so long and so many people have accepted it," he said. "It's an extremely difficult problem."
Berman said part of what he and other legislators have been doing over the past six years is working to eliminate the property tax, which would be replaced by a "consumption tax" that would be paid by all Texans, regardless of economic background or legal citizenship.
"We've got to try to find some solution where everybody is paying the tax," he said.
Schaefer brought up the issue of transparency legislation again, arguing that a clear way that's understandable to the public to track how tax dollars are being shifted around and spent would help curb state spending and "accounting tricks" that caused some of the problems currently facing the state.
Berman began the discussion of social service spending by expressing his hope that "Obama care" would be ruled unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court. The incumbent said the governor's financial advisers placed a $27 billion price tag on the medical care of "illegal aliens" over the course of two years.
Schaefer criticized that price tag, and said that projected cost was over the top for providing care to the state's estimated two million undocumented residents.
"We have a healthcare spending problem in the country," he said, emphasizing that patients and often doctors aren't aware of the costs of medical care when treatment is ongoing. "When you have millions of consumers that don't have to think about cost, then it's going to be a problem."
The challenger went on to criticize Berman's vote in support of legislation that allowed undocumented residents to receive in-state tuition at Texas universities and colleges.
Berman defended the vote and said Democrats threatened to oppose and quash legislation intended to benefit residents in his area. He also said fighting legislation with such strong support from Gov. Perry was a difficult and fruitless thing to do.
"I wasn't going to sacrifice that (legislation) knowing that the thing (education bill) was going to pass overwhelmingly," he said.
Schaefer said he advocated a loosening of government oversight and control on Texas' school districts and instructors. He even advocated removing licensing for educators so that more residents who wanted to teach but did not meet current standards could.
"We're running our school out of Austin, not out of Tyler," he said. "Let's take the regulations off our school districts and the responsibility is on us to hold our superintendents and school districts responsible."
He said that ideally, school administrators would be held responsible by the public and school boards instead of legislators working to force districts to comply with monetary and curriculum guidelines, such as standardized testing.
Both candidates advocated for an increase in technical skill training at the primary and secondary educational levels.
Financially, Berman said districts could benefit from slashing superintendent staff budgets. He said when legislators cut budgets and saw the fallout of teachers being fired, he and others demanded superintendents in the districts reduce their staffs and stop firing teachers.
Statewide, he said he advocated the idea of having a single superintendent over a county's school district with assistant superintendents instead of superintendents for each district.
Schaefer contended that district's have sufficient funding, but state-imposed mandates on how that money is allocated tied their hands from being able to move funds where needed.
Schaefer and Berman are competing for the District 6 Texas House seat. The primary is slated for May 29.