ST. LOUIS - Missouri's highways continue to be the focal point of the gubernatorial race with both major-party candidates agreeing that action needs to be taken.
But U.S. Rep. Jim Talent, the Republican candidate, and Democratic state Treasurer Bob Holden sparred about the specifics of such action at a statewide candidate forum Friday.
"Nothing's being done in Jefferson City," Talent said. "I want to build (the highway system) with a series of bond issues."
Talent has proposed a plan issuing $1 billion bonds annually for 10 years, which would pay for rebuilding the state's highways. Talent said the state will have to pay back only about $630 million a year.
Others, however, have raised questions about the validity of those figures, saying the proposal could hurt the state's high bond rating. Democrats claim that if Missouri's rating falls, it could have a detrimental effect on several monetary issues, including the interest rate the state receives on loans.
Holden, who has not yet introduced a plan for the state's highways, reiterated his belief that Talent's plan is not sound.
"We can all agree that Missouri's roads need to be improved," he said. "But unlike Congressman Talent, I believe we must proceed in a fiscally responsible manner and not put our state deep in debt."
Talent, however, said 43 other states have implemented similar bond issues to rebuild highways.
"It's financially the most prudent and safest way to build roads," he said. "What's risky is going on the way we are."
The candidates also debated about the state's public school system. Talent promised to give gambling money to schools and to hold schools accountable for results. But Holden criticized Talent, saying he supported taking money from public schools with private school vouchers.
All major-party candidates for the six statewide offices attended the forum, with one notable exception. Gov. Mel Carnahan, the Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate, instead attended an event in Kansas City with retired Gen. Colin Powell, which took Carnahan's Republican opponent, incumbent John Ashcroft, by surprise.
Ashcroft said he was hoping Carnahan would appear and promise to participate in a program designed to give federal money to local schools.
"Had the governor been here today, and I had expected him to show up," Ashcroft said, "I was going to ask him to show up for our students."