BRADENTON -- Managing the future of Florida's public services, especially education and health care, was among the many issues discussed during a forum Tuesday between incumbent State Rep. Greg Steube, R-Parrish, and challenger Bob McCann.
Steube is seeking re-election to represent District 73. Steube was elected to the House in 2010, when he defeated McCann and two other candidates. McCann has since switched from Republican to no-party affiliation.
The two answered questions from a panel consisting of the Bradenton Herald's Editorial Page Editor Chris Willie and Executive Editor Joan Krauter.
Education and health care were recurring topics during the forum, produced and broadcast by Manatee Educational Television. When asked their budget priorities, each candidate said more funding was necessary to improve those services.
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Steube said he would use surplus revenue, projected in the amount of $2.7 billion in three main reserve funds, for education, which has suffered cutbacks over the years.
"It will give us an opportunity to fund programs we cut the last few years," he said.
McCann, a physician of 25 years and health care attorney for 12 years, said he would direct those funds toward expanding Medicaid. Gov. Rick Scott rejected federal money to expand Medicaid.
As an emergency room physician, McCann said most residents ended up in the ER because they could not afford their co-payments.
"We need to fund public health," he said.
Steube supported Scott's action to reject federal funds, stating it would cost Florida over time.
Staying with education, Steube was in support of creating more charter schools and using public funds for private school and church-affiliated schools. Steube mentioned he voted to place an amendment on the November ballot that would repeal the state's ban on using public dollars for religious-based organizations.
"To give our children and parents other options is a good thing," Steube said.
McCann said he supports public-private partnerships for education, but said funding private institutions should not come out of money designated for public schools.
"They need to set up a separate fund for private schools," he said.
McCann said the state needs to "stop trying to run education like a business."
Steube and McCann did agree one some issues. Both said establishing a free market for property insurance rates in Florida is the best approach, and each said he would create legislation to create jobs in Manatee County.
The two candidates both had reservations about privatizing public services, such as prison health care and correctional facilities.
Earlier this month, a legislative panel voted 6-4 to allow the state's Department of Corrections to correct a $60 million deficit by turning inmate care over to private companies.
McCann believes it would not be economically feasible to privatize some public services and said it would be difficult to privatize prison health care because inmates are represented by individual lawyers.
Steube referred to Union County, where the majority of the population is employed by a prison. He said turning correctional services to a private company would hurt families depending on employment with the prison.
"You have people whose retirement benefits are tied to that prison," he said. "People would lose jobs."
Nick Williams, East Manatee reporter, can be reached at 941-748-0411 ext. 7049. Twitter:@_1NickWilliams