Four candidates for state Assembly blasted the state’s health care policy and criticized Madison lawmakers for a lack of transportation funding at a forum Wednesday in Beloit’s City Hall.
Two candidates—Rep. Amy Loudenbeck, R-Clinton, and Rep. Mark Spreitzer, D-Beloit—are incumbents who said the Legislature could do more to boost health insurance coverage and fund roads.
Their opponents, meanwhile, blamed the incumbents for ongoing statewide issues.
Nearly 80 people attended the forum, which was co-sponsored by the League of Women Voters of Janesville and Beloit, Justice Overcoming Borders, NAACP, Greater Beloit Area Chamber of Commerce and Forward Janesville.
Loudenbeck faces Brittany Keyes in the 31st Assembly District race on Nov. 6. Spreitzer faces Reese Wood in the 45th Assembly District.
Keyes, a Beloit Democrat, fired multiple shots at Loudenbeck during the 90-minute forum. A physical therapist and a football coach at Beloit Memorial High School, Keyes said she would accept federal dollars to expand BadgerCare, reindex the gas tax and tie it to inflation and slammed the state for relying on bonds to pay for roads.
“People can say one thing, and then when push comes to shove, and the vote’s on the table, they may vote another way,” Keyes said. “My opponent has publicly supported raising the gas tax … but then when it came to committee, her vote did not demonstrate that she meant what she said.”
Loudenbeck, who’s seeking her fifth term in the Assembly, said she has been a vocal advocate for sustainable transportation funding. She said gas taxes are “regressive” and that people who use the roads most should pay more.
Loudenbeck said she has suggested charging a per-mile fee for large trucks traveling on the state’s roads. That measure didn’t have the support in the Assembly, she said, so the state ended up borrowing for transportation.
“If we can’t get the political will to actually do a gas tax or tolls or something else, I think we need to change the conversation because we’ve been having the same conversation for eight years,” Loudenbeck said. “We need to have an honest discussion about this. … Transportation affects everyone, and it costs everyone real money every day.”
Reese Wood, a Beloit Libertarian, advocated for legalizing hemp and marijuana as possible funding solutions for transportation and improved health care. He pushed back on some proposals by Spreitzer, saying discussions around funding health care programs aren’t as important as addressing the “quality of life” of residents.
Spreitzer, who is seeking his third term in the Assembly, said he has co-sponsored legislation that would allow residents to opt into BadgerCare, the state’s version of Medicare currently limited to low-income residents. He said the state could allow residents to buy into the program and thus offer lower rates than the private sector.
Loudenbeck said she didn’t know if expanding BadgerCare would drive down costs. She said it might cover more people but insisted it would shift the cost to private providers.
“We need to drive down the costs, not just figure out another way to pay for it,” Loudenbeck said.
Keyes and Spreitzer supported raising the minimum wage, yet neither said by how much. Keyes said the minimum wage likely would need to be different in Rock and Walworth counties than in other parts of the state.
On racial inequality, Keyes said Wisconsin is the worst state in the country to raise young black men. She said lawmakers have failed to have a conversation about the issue.
Loudenbeck agreed and said the racial inequality in prisons is “very troubling.” She said the state has seen some tightening in racial disparities, but she pushed for boosting programs such as Head Start, which gives low-income children a good start in school.
The 31st District stretches from eastern Beloit and Janesville to Elkhorn. The 45th District covers western Beloit and Rock County and parts of Green County.