With November's general election just a few weeks away, the three Georgia gubernatorial candidates faced off in a debate hosted by GPB at 7 p.m. Sunday.
Republican Governor Nathan Deal, Democratic candidate Senator Jason Carter and Libertarian Andrew Hunt met for the first time since 13WMAZ hosted a debate at the Georgia National Fair last month.
The candidates answered questions on a range of topics, from education to the economy, health care reform, medical marijuana and more.
Deal and Carter attacked each other over this year's state education budget, which Carter did not vote for.
"Now what I have done in my four budgets is to appropriate a great percentage of general state revenue for K-12 education than any Governor since Carl Sanders was Governor back in the early 60's. That is in 50 years. And this year the largest, single appropriation, as our economy was rebounding, was in this year's budget, some 535 million additional dollars," Deal said.
Carter hit back, saying the state's education system is "crumbling."
He said he didn't vote for the budget because it underfunded education.
"Governor Deal has to look back to the 1960's to justify his education policy," Carter said. "We need to fund our education system for this century, not last century. And what you have seen in our state is the worst under-funding and the worst contraction of public education in the history of our state."
On the health care income gap that affects middle-class families who may make too much to qualify for federal subsidies but still struggle to pay the bill, the candidates disagreed.
"Right now, the federal government has $36 billion of our money and the Governor has fought for the federal government to keep that money," Carter said. "It doesn't make sense for the 600,000 Georgians who would have health care if not for this Governor's decision," Carter said.
Carter also touched upon the five rural hospitals that have closed in recent years with sixteen more on the verge of shuttering their doors.
But Deal said expanding Medicaid in the state would be too costly.
"Georgia taxpayers spend $2,300 a year in supporting Medicaid on a state and federal level," Deal said. "If we expand it, it's going to cost $2.5 billion over the next ten years. I just simply don't think we can afford to do that."
Deal went on to say the state paid $351.5 million in this year's budget to comply with regulations under the Affordable Care Act.
"That's $351 million we could have put into things like education, because we already had our people insured," Deal said.
The candidates also answered a question about whether to criminalize behavior that violates NCAA rules.
That's based off of a 2003 law that allows public universities to pursue civil damages against athletes who violate NCAA rules.
University of Georgia running back Todd Gurley continues to be suspended from the field in the midst of allegations that he was paid for autographs.
"Maybe we're doing too many regulations in here," Hunt said. "We should allow a little bit of money to come to these impoverished players who are suffering so much under the current ways."
Carter and Deal recently posted on social media in support of the athlete using the hashtag #FreeGurley.
"More importantly than anything else, we need to see some fairness in the NCAA," Deal said. "We're seeing other stadiums across the country playing individuals who may have done the very same thing one of our players is alleged to do. It is a serious problem."
But Deal said because those decisions are made by the private sector, "This is something I think we have to be very cautious about legislating on."
"I think the folks that are out there preying on these athletes and making money off of them should be punished," Carter said.
Carter added that education needs to be a priority.
"The cost of college in this state is rising faster than any other state but one," he said.
The latest poll from our sister station WXIA and survey USA shows the race for governor in an even tie.
Deal and Carter are both at 46%.
Libertarian candidate Andrew Hunt, who isn't on this breakdown, has enough support to force the vote into a runoff.
The results are also within the margin of error at 4 point 2 percent.
13WMAZ will air the U.S. Senate and governor candidates debates at the fair grounds next Sunday.