Gov. candidate highlights senior, veteran issues

Wednesday, May 7, 2008
Kenny Hulshof

Property tax breaks for senior citizens and better state support for veterans are the themes U.S. Rep. Kenny Hulshof emphasized Tuesday in a campaign visit to Cape Girardeau.

Hulshof, a Republican from Columbia, is seeking the GOP nomination to replace Gov. Matt Blunt, who is not seeking a second term. He faces State Treasurer Sarah Steelman and two other contenders in the Aug. 5 primary.

In a short lunchtime talk at the Cape Girardeau Senior Center, Hulshof proposed freezing the property assessments of Missourians over 65 who have incomes of $52,000 or less. The proposal would prevent seniors from receiving ever-increasing property tax bills that would eat into their retirement income, he said.

"This is a pretty common-sense approach," Hulshof said.

In conjunction with his proposal for the assessment freeze, Hulshof told the seniors that he wants lawmakers to enact harsher penalties for elderly abuse such as physical assaults or sexual assaults in nursing homes.

Hulshof also told seniors that he wants to take veterans issues out of the shadow of the Missouri Department of Public Safety. He said he wants to make the Missouri Veterans Commission an independent agency and create a Veterans Advocacy Corps to help former miltary members navigate state and federal benefit programs.

"I can't figure out why Missouri veterans are given such a short shrift," Hulshof said.

As he spoke, Hulshof also emphasized his Southeast Missouri roots. While he has represented northeast Missouri in the U.S. House of Representatives since 1997, Hulshof grew up on a farm near Bertrand, Mo., and was a public defender and assistant Cape Girardeau County prosecutor before taking a post as a special prosecutor with the Missouri attorney general's office in 1989.

The visit was Hulshof's first public appearance locally as a candidate for governor.

Under Hulshof's proposal for taxes, residential property would be exempt from reassessment, which takes place every two years. Under the state constitution, when property values rise faster than inflation, tax rates must be reduced. But because assessments rise unevenly, the tax burden on any particular property can increase dramatically even when rates fall.

The change he is proposing would spare many senior citizens from that burden, Hulshof said after his talk. "We are holding the line for senior citizens who own their own homes," he said.

The proposal is not designed to prevent senior citizens from paying higher rates because of voter-approved tax increases, Hulshof said.

As he finished his talk, Brenda Hargrave, a part-time staff member at the senior center, asked Hulshof to help push for a health insurance package stalled in the Missouri Legislature. Called Insure Missouri, it would have combined state and federal funds to help some lower-income Missourians pay for private health insurance. "They ditched it, and all the people were looking forward to it," Hargrave said after telling Hulshof she was semiretired but too young for Medicare. "I've just got to stay healthy or I will go bankrupt."

Hulshof told Hargrave he sympathized with her position but that nothing is likely to happen to assist the 700,000 Missourians without health insurance with only nine days left in the legislative session. Insure Missouri would have covered about 200,000 people.

"The next governor has to do something," he told her. Conversations like the one with Hargrave are providing the spark for many of the proposals he will roll out during the campaign, Hulshof said. The veterans proposals are one example, he said.

"Government should help find solution to some of these daily challenges, and unless you are hearing about them you don't know what those challenges are," he said.

rkeller@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 126

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