Government spending and taxes emerged as main topics during a debate between candidates for Arkansas’ 3rd congressional district on Tuesday.
Republican Congressman Steve Womack, the incumbent, spoke on his experience on the House Budget Committee and his vote for the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act and the economic impact he said it had.
"Up until the COVID crisis, which I think we can all agree is a major hurdle for our economy to overcome, [we had] record revenues. The problem is, it’s not that we tax too little of any socio-economic means. It’s not that we tax too little, it’s that we spend too much," Womack said.
Libertarian candidate Michael Kalagias agreed with Womack’s statement on the country spending too much, but said that Womack himself has voted for those spending bills, including voting to lift the debt cap. Kalagias also called the national debt the main issue of his campaign.
"We need to work on this problem. We need to balance the budget. We need to do that not by increasing our taxes. We need to do that by controlling our spending," Kalagias said.
Celeste Williams, the democratic candidate, spoke on the increased deficit spending and what she called a record high trade deficit.
"We are saddling our youth with a tremendous amount of national debt that risks our national security. It means less money for our safety nets and it risks programs like Social Security and Medicare," Williams said.
The candidates also differed on how to tackle threats on clean air and water, with Williams advocating for revenue neutral carbon tax and evaluating where the state gets its energy.
"We need to stop subsidizing fossil fuels and we need to make sure that we are incentivizing clean energy and that’s not just a save the planet kind of solution, but it’s also an economic opportunity," Williams said.
Kalagias spoke on alternative energy, said even cleaner forms of energy such as solar panels cause pollution, but did not offer a plan to aid keeping water and air clean.
"As long as we have people using energy, we’re going to have energy that pollutes. The fortunate thing that we have in this country is we have clean air already. We have clean water already, so we kind of already took care of that," Kalagias said.
Womack echoed Kalagias’ statements on Arkansas’ current quality of air and water, but said he believes the country can transition from fossil fuels to a greener energy approach.
"I just think that we’ve got to be very careful as we make this transition. One, not to commit a lot of federal resources to prop it up because that is making the market and I don’t think the federal government ought to be in the business of making the market," Womack said.
Another topic candidates discussed was COVID-19 and its disproportionate impact on essential workers and minority communities, who make up a majority of the essential work force, in northwest Arkansas.
When asked why these communities were left so vulnerable, Womack said when the virus reached the United States, the country was left unprepared in terms of PPE, but also in terms of preparing for the economic impact of the pandemic.
"I think our Marshallese community and maybe to a bit lesser extent, but not too much to a lesser extent the Latino community and others in our society just basically were affected in such a way that….the particular cultures that we all come from probably reared its ugly head," Womack said.
Womack also mentioned families living in close proximity to one another, as well as working in conditions that don’t allow for social distancing as reasons for the spread of cases. Kalagias agreed that the pandemic caught the country unprepared, but said the reason why is due to decades of bad policy.
"The reason there aren’t enough respirators, the reason there isn’t enough PPE equipment, the reason there aren’t enough doctors or enough hospitals isn’t because President Trump dismissed the pandemic team. It’s not because there was a lack of leadership. It’s because we have laws that prevented us from doing that," Kalagias said.
Williams, who is a nurse practitioner, said the reason why minority communities are getting hit harder by the pandemic is due to social determinates of health.
"Things like having educational and economic opportunities, a good paying job, benefits that allow you to get healthcare. And so, when we see communities that are disproportionally harmed by that, that is, of course, why," Williams said.
The full debate can be found on Arkansas PBS’ YouTube page. Early voting begins next Monday, October 19. Election Day is Nov. 3.