This election year, Hoosiers have plenty of questions to ponder – such as how state lawmakers will handle a $2.15 billion surplus, facets of President Obama’s health care law and gubernatorial candidates’ vows to cut taxes.
People with disabilities are no exception.
Area candidates for the General Assembly talked about the issues Friday in a disability-focused forum sponsored by the Northeast Indiana Disability Advocacy Coalition. But the candidates seemed reluctant to say exactly how legislators might use the surplus and approach a possible Medicaid expansion under the health law, which could affect many Hoosiers with disabilities.
“I can’t stand here in front of everyone and, based on conjecture, know what the budget will look like or say whether I’d be in favor of expanding the Medicaid rolls,” said Dave Ober, the Republican candidate in Indiana House District 82.
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in June that the federal government could not force states to comply with the Medicaid expansion, leaving individual states with a choice to opt in or out. By opting in, states could get federal funds to help with the initial expansion.
Most candidates at Friday’s forum said they could not make a decision for or against the Medicaid expansion without studying the issue further. David Nelson, director of the League for the Blind and Disabled, said he understood that candidates would be reluctant to take a firm position before knowing how possible tax cuts and other variables will play out.
“Sometimes we hear candidates be very straightforward and very precise in their answers. Not always,” said Nelson, who has been involved in the annual forum since 2008. “I suspect the working around the edges was heartfelt and probably reasonable.”
Democratic candidates at the forum included Rep. Phil GiaQuinta, Tom Keen and Rep. Win Moses. Republicans included Martin Carbaugh, Rep. Kathy Heuer, Sen. David Long and Rep. Phyllis Pond.
Other hot questions at the forum involved whether state lawmakers might use some of the record surplus to reverse steep cuts to special-education programs and public transportation – two important issues for people with disabilities and their families.
Susan Crowell, whose fourth-grade son has autism, said she was interested to find out how lawmakers would react to proposals by a new governor – either Republican Mike Pence or Democrat John Gregg – to cut taxes, further limiting the money available to schools and, in turn, special-ed programs.
“Frankly, I don’t think the schools can take another round of cuts,” Crowell said.
Regardless, Nelson said, Hoosiers with disabilities will be paying attention – and making their voices heard in voting booths.
“Those in the General Assembly have a major impact on whether people with disabilities in Indiana have any shot at quality of life,” he said.