Incumbent Dan Flynn and challenger George Alexander participated in a lively debate Tuesday night in the Ferguson Social Sciences Auditorium as they compete for the Texas House of Representatives District 2 spot. Moderated by Noah Lord Nelson, a Texas A&M University-Commerce distinguished visiting professor, the forum featured questions asked by panel members Scott Harvey of 88.9 KETR, Enola Gray of KSST radio, Kerry Craig of the News-Telegram and Nick Bailey of The East Texan.
The candidates fielded questions on a variety of subjects during the hour-long debate, including healthcare, immigration reform, the Texas economy and education funding.
The candidates discussed the cuts in healthcare and education spending during last year’s session.
“The legislature went into last session with a $27 billion shortfall and it was obvious that there were going to be some cuts,” Flynn said. “Texas continues to be the number one place to live, work and raise a family. We don’t have a revenue problem in Texas, we have a spending problem. We had to make some tough decisions, and we’ve done that over the years.”
Alexander agreed that Austin has a spending problem, but placed some of the blame on Flynn.
“I completely agree that we have a spending problem. He’s part of that spending problem. During the 10 years that he’s been in office, our state spending has increased by $60 billion while our population has only increased 20 percent. It’s not a member of spending more of our budget, but finding a way to distribute the money equitably.”
As state universities and local community colleges like A&M-Commerce and Paris Junior College have to increase tuition to counter cuts in higher education funding. Both candidates agreed that there is a problem with the current system.
“For 100 years the amount that the school could charge you was set by the legislature,” Alexander said. “Now, colleges determine that, which has resulted in huge hikes in tuition. I have problems with that because we’re turning the tuition costs over the unelected officials. We have to have an equitable way of managing our costs, and leaving that in control of unelected officials is not the answer.”
Flynn emphasized increasing affordable higher education through junior colleges.
“The cost of education has gone up like the cost of everything,” he said. “We wanted to bring it back to a local level were universities could be involved in that. We’ve tried to strengthen our junior colleges, and we’ve done that in this district. Paris Junior College is one of the prime examples of how we can have affordable education.”
Increases in vocational and technical training was another idea supported by Flynn.
“It’s not a right for everyone to go to college, and a statistic that’s disturbing is that 50 percent of high students that graduate never go to college, so we have to find other ways for them to become useful citizens in the community,” he said.
Alexander countered by saying that Flynn did not support local schools.
“He supported the bill in 2006 that created the targeted revenue system that our rural schools are under and are underfunded per student,” he said.
The candidates also discussed the Economic Stabilization Fund, commonly known as the Rainy Day Fund. Flynn defended the legislature’s use of money from the Economic Stabilization Fund in the last legislative session, while Alexander said that such money should only be used in “emergencies.”
Flynn and Alexander also touched on immigration reform, transportation, healthcare and faith. Texas primary elections are May 29 and early voting runs from May 14 to May 25. To listen to the full debate, visit www.ketr.org.