Mo. treasurer candidates largely agree in debate

Friday, September 12, 2008

COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) -- Treasurer candidates Brad Lager and Clint Zweifel have different ideas about how state government should operate, but there was little disagreement between them during a calm debate Friday.

Lager, a Republican senator from Savannah, and Zweifel, a Democratic House member from Florissant, each called for expanding efforts to ensure public money is not invested in ways that benefit terrorist organizations. They each said they would look to encourage Missouri parents to save money for their children's college education and would increase transparency in state tax incentive programs.

Lawmakers in recent years have approved millions of dollars in tax incentives, but critics of the programs have questioned whether they attract new economic development as they are intended or reward the friends and allies of lawmakers.

Lager and Zweifel each called for full disclosure of the people and companies that receive state tax credits along with regular reviews of the incentives' effectiveness.

The main point of disagreement between the two treasurer candidates was about their beliefs over the role of state government.

Lager, who touts his reputation for being a fiscal conservative, said government should be small and efficient. Zweifel said the state treasurer should take an active role in public policy debates, looking for ways to directly help the state's residents.

"Fundamentally and philosophically, I believe that the private sector will do better than government programs," Lager said.

Zweifel has been a vocal critic of legislation cutting thousands of people from the Medicaid rolls and selling some of the assets of the state higher education loan authority to pay for scholarships and campus construction projects. Neither of those were directly discussed during Friday's debate.

But "the status quo at this point is just not acceptable," Zweifel said. "We've seen what the fiscal policies of the last four years have done."

The debate, sponsored by the Missouri Press Association, was the first time the candidates have met ahead of the Nov. 4 general election.

State treasurers are limited to two four-year terms, and the office has often been a stepping stone to bids for higher office. Treasurer Sarah Steelman skipped re-election this year to instead run in the GOP governor primary. The last person to seek a second term as state treasurer was Bob Holden in 1996, who later became governor.

When asked during the debate about whether they had plans to run for higher office, Zweifel and Lager were demure and pledged to be focused on only their position's duties.

Missouri's state treasurer is responsible for investing the state's money, serves as the custodian for state funds and holds unclaimed property. The office also administers a state college savings plan and manages special tax incentives for development-stage companies.

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