Kirkman Finlay and Joe McCulloch disagree on most of the major issues likely to come before the state Legislature next year, giving voters in House District 75 a distinct choice on Nov. 6.
House lawmakers likely will debate expanding the state’s Medicaid system, and expanding tax cuts for businesses and school choice in the next year. Republican Finlay and Democrat McCulloch disagree on all three issues.
The two are running to succeed retiring state Rep. Jim Harrison, a GOP House member for 23 years and chairman of the powerful House Judiciary Committee.
The district, which includes the neighborhoods of Gregg Park, the Woodlands and portions of Forest Acres, has been solidly Republican for decades. Republican Finlay also represented most of the district as a Columbia city councilman until two years ago, giving him two built-in advantages.
But Democratic candidate Vincent Sheheen, a Camden state senator, won the district in the 2010 governor’s race, proof a Democrat can win the area.
State lawmakers could decide next year whether to accept billions of dollars in added federal money to pay for health insurance for up to 500,000 of the state’s neediest people – insurance that some officials estimate will cost the state a total of $1.1 billion by 2020.
The health insurance expansion is part of President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act, commonly referred to as “Obamacare.” The new law requires states to expand their Medicaid programs – health insurance for the poor, disabled and children – to cover more people. But in June, the U.S. Supreme Court said states could choose whether to follow the law, setting up a showdown in state legislatures across the country.
If South Carolina agrees to the expansion, the federal government will pay 100 percent of the costs of expanding Medicaid for the first two years and 90 percent of the cost for the third year. South Carolina would pay 30 percent of the cost each year after that.
For Finlay, a businessman who owns restaurants and farms, the issue is a flashback to his days as a Columbia city councilman. Once, the city passed three years’ worth of spending plans without knowing how much money it had to spend. The result? The city paid $18 million more for employee health insurance than it had planned.
“We have to explain how we are going to pay for our part and how we intend to pay for it in the future,” Finlay said. “We know the bill is going to come due.”
McCulloch, a Columbia attorney, got to see the state’s health-care system up close recently. While knocking on doors in the House district, a dog bit him, sending him to the emergency room.
“I was surrounded by people who obviously had no reason to be there other than the fact they have no health insurance and they have nominal health-care problems,” he said. “That expense is continuing to drive up health-care costs.”
That’s why McCulloch said he would vote to expand the state’s Medicaid rolls. That expansion would give more people health insurance, cutting back on expensive emergency room visits and lowering health-care costs, he said.
“We’re paying for it (the health care) whether we take (the federal money) or not,” he said.
House lawmakers have tried for years to pass a tax deduction for the parents of students who attend private school or are home-schooled, finally succeeding in March. However, the bill later died in the Senate.
The bill would have allowed those parents to deduct up to a $4,000 a year from their state income tax. The issue is important in District 75, home to some of the area’s most prominent private schools. Finlay, whose children attends private schools, supports the bill. McCulloch, whose son attended public schools, does not.
“Parents ought to have a greater say in where their children go to school and how they go to school,” Finlay said. “I’m not somebody who is out leading the charge. ... School choice, and a lot of these issues, have to be worked into and thought about incrementally.
“We’ve got an established school system. We can’t just decide overnight to be done with it and move on. We do need to challenge it to meet the demands of a changing environment.”
The bill, had it became law, would have cut the state’s revenues by $36 million a year. McCulloch said the state needs that money to spend in public education.
“Public schools have got to be ready and able to provide an education to every kid. You can’t do that unless you’ve got the money to do it,” he said. “Taking money away from the problem is not going to make that problem go away.”
Cutting business taxes
In the last legislative session, House Republicans tried to lower business property taxes by $1.1 billion by 2021 – meaning a $1.1 billion budget cut for the local governments that collect those taxes.
Finlay and McCulloch, who both own property for their businesses, both agree the taxes that they pay are expensive. The difference is McCulloch says the taxes are necessary, while Finlay says they are not.
“(The taxes) seems to me wildly expensive. But, unfortunately, I don’t know how we’d support the infrastructure cost that we have,” McCulloch said. “We talk a good game about tax reductions without finding the revenue from other sources.”
Finlay says business profits are shrinking because of the struggling economy, yet business taxes have stayed the same. Finlay says that his time as a Columbia city councilman taught him there is always room to cut a budget.
“It is a very high, impactful tax right now ... it really impacts and hurts people,” Finlay said. “I think that cities and counties could work their way through it,” the loss of revenue.
Reach Beam at (803) 386-7038.