Republican gubernatorial candidates face off in debate

Republican gubernatorial candidates face off in debate

JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - Mississippi’s three Republican Gubernatorial candidates vying for the party nomination debated for the first time all together Tuesday night.

Teacher pay has been a hot topic since the end of the legislative session. Candidates took their positions and a few shots when answering what a fair starting wage for teachers should be.

“It’s got to be equal to surrounding states," said Robert Foster. "It’s got to be around $40,000 mark,” he said when asked for that dollar figure.

“$40,000 is achievable," said Bill Waller, Jr. "My pledge is that we’re going to have a pay raise every year till we get to the Southeastern average.”

“That’s about a $275 million expense that [Bill Waller, Jr.] said that we can get to next year," responded Tate Reeves. "Needs to be within our budget.”

The candidates were also asked if it’s time to raise the gas tax.

“I would not agree to any raising of tax without a swap or full restructuring of our tax structure,” said Foster.

“Three or four cents, is what you would want it raised?” Waller was asked.

“We want to look at it do the least possible… but yes, that would be a starting point,” replied Waller.

“Let’s make sure we all have the facts," said Reeves. "A 3-4 cent increase in the gas tax increase is a $60-80 million dollar tax increase on hardworking Mississippi families.”

There were some hits taken on the issue of voucher expansion for school choice.

“It should get some real facts on it," Waller noted. "It needs to be voted and vetted by full legislature and not secretly added in a conference report.”

“Here’s the real problem… our Lt. Governor looks at all these children as a statistic,” Foster said while also noting he does not believe vouchers should be expanded at this time.

“When I sat down with those six moms, I wasn’t thinking about statistics, I was thinking about their babies,” said Reeves.

Another topic of interest for voters is healthcare. Candidates were asked if the state should use federal money to insure Mississippians.

“I’m opposed to Obamacare expansion in Mississippi," said Reeves. "I don’t care what you call it. We have to do it”

“We have to do it," replied Waller. "And I want to use Mike Pence reform. We could add, bring up the level to 138% of the poverty level. It will cost zero state budget money.”

“I’m still considering all options," noted Foster. "We have to. We have to put all option on the table. We have to negotiate.”

None of the candidates were in support of the marijuana ballot initiative.

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