Appearing in their last debate before Election Day, Democratic state Sen. Jason Carter and Republican Gov. Nathan Deal clashed over pari-mutuel betting, Georgia’s HOPE scholarship and school funding on live TV Sunday as they sought to avoid a grueling runoff for the Governor’s Mansion.
The rivals faced off with Libertarian Andrew Hunt on WSB-TV as they prepared to crisscross the state in the final nine days of their increasingly bitter campaign.
Asked if he would support pari-mutuel betting to help raise money for the HOPE scholarship in Georgia, Carter said he was skeptical of the idea. But he also said “everything has to be on the table” now that there are tens of thousands fewer scholarship recipients.
“I would work with the Legislature as we see it today to explore those options,” Carter said before accusing the Georgia Lottery Corporation of mismanaging its funds.
Moments earlier, Deal said he opposed pari-mutuel betting and then defended the Lottery Corporation.
“I believe the leadership in our lottery has done an exceptionally good job,” he said. “When they have produced the highest amount of money for education in the history of the lottery in these still very difficult times, I think they are doing a very good job.”
Without addressing gambling, Hunt focused on controlling the rising cost of college in Georgia.
“One of our issues, of course, is not just the income coming in and how we allocate that but the cost of our schools,” he said. “We have to really look at… all these extra costs that are being added in beyond just the tuition.”
Carter and Deal also differed over a proposal to institute a family income cap for HOPE scholarship recipients. Carter spoke favorably about the idea.
“If we can’t afford to pay for everyone, we have to ensure that we are maximizing the number of people who can go [to college] and that we are ensuring that the middle class gets taken care of first,” Carter said. “That’s my plan. I will work with the Legislature to find a balanced way to consider need and to consider we are giving those hardworking people who qualify for the HOPE scholarship and who get into college the chance to get ahead and not have that door closed because it is too expensive to go to college.”
Deal said he opposes such an income cap and then accused Carter of proposing that the state dip into its financial reserves.
“Tonight, for him to advocate dipping into our reserves –- that’s where we got in trouble in the first place,” Deal said. “We crossed the line in 2009 and were having to dip into our reserves for the first two years before I came into office. We now have filled up our reserves and that is the best place for us to be.”
Carter then accused Deal of lying.
“We are not talking about dipping into the reserves,” he said. “We are talking about money over and above the reserves that is currently being wasted. He is lying about my record.”
“I have always been in favor of working with the Legislature to find an appropriate way to discuss need and to consider helping and expanding the middle class. Those are the facts as we see them today.”
Deal responded: “If he really believed that, he would have voted for this year’s budget which had $10 million in it for technical college students to get one percent low interest loans if their PELL grants and their HOPE grants were not sufficient. He voted against that.”
Like Deal, Hunt opposes an income cap for HOPE scholarship recipients.
“People who are paying the most taxes never get any benefit back,” he said.
Later in the debate, Deal hammered again on Carter for voting against the state’s fiscal year 2015 budget, saying it represented a substantial increase in public school funding.
“If you thought we were not doing the right thing, why didn’t you offer some amendments to propose how to deal with it more appropriately?” Deal said. “You know it was the highest single increase in k-12 funding and you voted against it. You say you took this epiphany tour. Nobody else that went with you voted against the budget.
“His votes do not even represent mainstream Democrats in this state,” Deal continued. “He is on the extreme liberal edge within his own party as it comes to spending your tax dollars. I don’t think we can afford for that to happen.”
Carter said Deal has mischaracterized his record on taxpayer spending and countered that the state budget is underfunding schools by hundreds of millions of dollars.
“Gov. Deal is angry. I can tell that,” Carter said. “But the facts are this: We have underfunded education every single year. He says I had an epiphany tour. It is better to come to grips with what is happening in reality than to have never seen the problem in the first place.
“Gov. Deal would have made it all the way to Damascus without an epiphany because anybody who is out there in our schools today knows we are not supporting our schools to the degree they need.”
Hunt said the state needs to focus on being more “cost-effective.”
“More teachers,” he said, “less bureaucracy.”
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