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Both candidates running for Missouri House of Representatives District 49 say ensuring a healthy climate for business and maintaining Missouri's infrastructure is important, but they hold a different focus on how Missouri can help.

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Travis Fitzwater, the Republican incumbent running for re-election to the House District 49 seat, said the state has worked on creating a "regulatory environment that's more conducive to business growth" since former Gov. Jay Nixon's tenure, but the state can go further in removing obstacles for businesses.

Lisa Buhr, Fitzwater's Democratic opponent, said she wants to create personal connections with small businesses in the district to help them find success.

"I'm not an expert at small business, but I'm good at talking to people, and I will be sure to talk to the small businesses in my district," Buhr said. " There are small businesses that have my sign just because I've gone in and talked to them. The House has lots of lawyers who are experts, and I'm sure I would be able to utilize that if I had any questions about policy and whatnot."

Fitzwater said state departments worked as adversaries against Missouri businesses during Nixon's time as governor. Now, he added, departments are more likely to work with businesses than cause unnecessary restrictions, penalties and problems.

"I think you have departments that, state bureaucracies that, when they become more partners with business as opposed to restrictive bureaucracies, you open opportunities for businesses to not be near as concerned about the department hurting them, but thinking the department is a resource, which it should always be," Fitzwater said.

That effort to push departments to consider businesses a partner should be continued, Fitzwater added, to "create some real opportunities for local communities."

Buhr said Missouri should put greater focus on small businesses, providing better tax relief to them instead of tax cuts to larger companies in an effort to draw them to the state.

"If a company is just looking at their tax rates as to whether or not they're going to bring a company here, I don't think that you would want that company here in the first place," Buhr said. "You would want ones that would invest in the communities. And when you have a community that depends on business, you don't want one (company) that's just going to up and run away if they don't get their way."

Fitzwater said another important area is workforce development, providing better education and training to Missourians to take advantage of higher-paying opportunities.

He pointed to his work on House Bill 680, which had its provisions signed into law through another House bill. The legislation includes measures to create four adult high schools throughout the state, with the first ones opening this month.

The schools should provide adults with the opportunity to receive high school degrees and training to prepare them for the workforce, added Fitzwater, who is vice chairman of the Legislature's workforce development committee.

Buhr said she would like to use her experience working at the Department of Labor for seven years to help small businesses navigate and understand state laws.

One misconception Buhr said she would work to clear up is how increasing Missouri's minimum wage, which she supports, would affect small businesses.

"If your business doesn't gross over $500,000, then the minimum wage in the state doesn't even apply to (you)," Buhr said. "So when people say that raising wages or adjusting wages is going to hurt small business, that's not exactly true because a lot of them, it doesn't even apply to."

Both candidates support Proposition D, a measure on November's ballot to raise the state fuels tax.

Fitzwater said he supported putting the measure in the state Legislature, as it complements the tax-reform bill he worked on that lowers corporate and individual income tax.

"Missourians are going to see more money in their pockets in 2019, and I think it's really important that we can find ways to invest in our infrastructure," he said.

If the fuels tax isn't raised, Fitzwater said, the state will need to find room in the budget to better fund infrastructure repair. He is not in favor of toll roads, Fitzwater added, as polling he has done indicated 70 percent of Callaway County residents did not support the idea.

Fitzwater said improving utility infrastructure is also important, pointing to legislation passed by the state that changes the regulatory environment to make it easier for energy companies to invest in Missouri.

With the state's fuels tax being the 48th lowest in the nation, Buhr said, "there's roads and bridges in Missouri that are in dire need of repair."

"We desperately need to put the money back into our infrastructure, and with that, it creates jobs," Buhr said. "I mean, that's a no-brainer. When you have construction work to do and you have road work to do, that puts people to work. And when there's workers coming, working on the highway, they have to have lunch at the small business down the street."

Much of House District 49 includes rural roads that are commonly used by heavy vehicles such as tractors and school buses, Buhr added, which makes it important to keep infrastructure up to date.

On internet infrastructure, Fitzwater said local providers have been impactful in rolling out affordable fiber connections throughout Callaway County, but many rural residents still need better internet access. Fitzwater said Missouri should focus on encouraging investment in the marketplace to improve rural internet infrastructure.

"I was happy to support the rural broadband bill that passed the Legislature this year that will help create grant opportunities around areas of the state with little to no access to broadband services," Fitzwater said.

Buhr also said Missouri should work with businesses to expand internet infrastructure, stressing it's importance to rural areas. High speed internet access is important for rural schools to be able to survive with the internet becoming a key part of education, she added.

"If you want business to go to the rural areas, you have to have broadband," Buhr said. "Everything happens on Wi-Fi. If these rural communities don't have access to modern amenities, then people are not going to want to go there."

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