Is Maine too generous in providing social services to its residents? Which government benefits should be increased or decreased?
Maine is struggling to adequately fund the many needs of the elderly, sick, disabled and poor. But the fact is that Maine now allocates about one-third of its budget to the Department of Health and Human Services, which includes the 24% of the state budget that supports MaineCare. For a relatively small and poor state, that is a substantial commitment to maintaining our social safety net. But we all know of heart-wrenching cases where needy people suffer without adequate healthcare, nutrition or heat. In order to provide for the neediest Mainers, DHHS and the Legislature must prioritize assistance spending to assure that those unfortunate people who have nowhere else to turn are the ones who are covered first.
Another problem to be addressed is to provide a helping hand to the working poor. It is unfair to a person who struggles to find employment, only to discover that, due to loss of benefits, she has less income to pay rent or to provide food and clothing for her family. A provision that supplements earned income for poor working families could reduce their complete dependence on welfare and provide an incentive to enter and remain in the workforce. If carefully constructed, such an approach could reduce assistance costs for some people while providing an incentive to end welfare dependency. Unfortunately, such an approach would require changes to Federal law since TANF and food assistance is mostly funded by the Federal Government. I support the creation of a pilot program to test the efficacy of this idea, and will ask the Legislature to consider a request to Congress, and especially to our Maine Congressional Delegation, to support such an effort.
The question of Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act has been hotly debated in Augusta. One of the issues of great concern is whether Maine can afford the 10% match (some $40 million), and whether or not State obligations would remain in place under either state or federal law should ACA expansion funding disappear. There are significant flaws in the ACA that will need to be addressed by the next president with the cooperation of Congress. As of July, some 16 of the state exchanges were failing and major insurance carriers were pulling out of many states, or substantially raising rates. As former President Bill Clinton has recently noted, the result for many individuals and small businesses has been increased costs for less coverage. Until we know how Congress addresses these issues, we cannot be certain that the promised Medicaid expansion funding will continue to exist. It would be unwise and risky to commit Maine to Medicaid expansion until we get some concrete answers. But once we can see where the future of the Affordable Care Act is heading and can have greater confidence in the proposed funding, it will be appropriate for the Governor and the Legislature to revisit the issue.
The social services we provide are constantly reviewed and adjusted. As the cost of everything rises, so does the cost of these programs that we have decided are essential to help those in need. Whether it is temporary or long term, we are a caring society and will continue to help others, while making sure there is no fraud or waste in the programs.
Do you support expanding or raising the sales tax to lower the state income tax? Why or why not?
A fair and efficient tax system will necessarily include a balance of tax mechanisms. Consequently, I do not believe that Maine should entirely eliminate the State Income Tax, but undoubtedly it could be reduced by changing the scope and rate structure of the Sales and Use Tax. How much to reduce the Income Tax, and how to make up the lost revenue if it is reduced, should be determined by a comprehensive analysis of the impact such changes would have on revenue, economic growth and job creation. This will require an analysis tool known as dynamic economic modeling; the state does not currently use such a model to the best of my knowledge. It is important that any changes to the tax system be made with close consultation with the State Economist, the Maine Revenue Service, and with other experts familiar with economic and revenue forecasts related to taxation.
Tax policy has been developed a piece at a time without consideration of the consequences. We have put the burden of paying for our state on the backs of our middle class. We need to expand the taxes that bring in money from our visitors and make sure we are progressive in our income and property taxes. This can be done by having a better property tax Homestead exemption for residents, and a fair upper income tax for those who earn larger amounts without the ability to use deductions to pay less than those earning far less.
Over the past ten years or so, I have occasionally worked as a consultant for various community non-profit organizations concerned about substance abuse in the adolescent and high school age population. They are greatly concerned about the impact of alcohol, marijuana and the unauthorized use of prescription drugs and pain killers within this age group. Their focus is to help parents learn how to communicate effectively with their teens and how to help each other as parents to help teens resist peer pressure and avoid risky behavior. Making marijuana available as a legal commercial product will only complicate this effort by making marijuana even more readily available to teens and adolescents than it already is. I support the availability of marijuana as a physician-prescribed drug for pain control, and I favor decriminalization of private use (it makes no sense to burden the court system with users). But I oppose making marijuana a commercial product.
Marijuana has so many healthy uses and has been regulated by misinformation. It has driven the supply into the hands of unscrupulous dealers who sell harmful and addictive drugs that cause a great deal of pain and suffering in our communities. By selling it to adults, taxing it and removing it from the criminal justice system, we will be able to focus our efforts on the opioid addiction problems we are in the midst of. It also has pain relief and cancer healing properties that we will be able to explore more fully when labs have access to it for study.
The proposed 3% surcharge on persons making over $200,000 is poor public policy. Maine needs to address the question of achieving a level of 55% state funding for public education, but the revenue necessary for this goal should be raised from a combination of sources, not just from the taxation of income of one segment of Maines economy. There should also be a means to ensure that property taxes are reduced accordingly. Moreover, any proposed changes to the tax structure should be carefully analyzed since such changes can have a wide-ranging effect on job creation and economic growth as well as on revenue.
This falls under the comprehensive tax reform that I mentioned previously. It is another piecemeal attempt at fair taxation that is driven by the income tax cut that was not funded properly by the Governor and a previous legislature. The cut drove more of the burden of education onto the property tax payers who were already being hit too hard by the legislature ignoring the 55 percent mandate that a previous Citizens Referendum had achieved.
This will help create tax fairness until the big picture of tax reform can be accomplished.
The Bloomberg proposal, Question 3 on this Falls referendum ballot, is a big city, high-crime-area law that does not and should not apply to Maine. Maine has a long history of hunting and responsible gun ownership. The very restrictive language of this proposal will make it extremely difficult for responsible sportsmen and gun enthusiasts to loan or transfer their guns between friends and relatives without possibly being in violation of the law. It is simply not fair or reasonable to restrict the rights responsible Maine people who are not part of the problem.
In Maine, we have a long history of respecting gun rights and a strong hunting tradition. I have no interest in taking guns away from law-abiding citizens or creating any unnecessary burdens on them.
However, I also know it's far too easy for criminals from out of state who cannot obtain guns where they live to come to Maine and buy one through Craigslist or Uncle Henry's no questions asked. I also know that a quarter of homicides in Maine come from domestic gun violence. I support the referendum because if a simple background check can prevent even one of those homicides, or keep a gun out of the hands of a criminal, it's worth it.
That said, this is by no means a perfect referendum. If it passes, the Legislature will immediately need to iron out the kinks to ensure families and friends can continue to hunt or target shoot together without hassle.
Minimum wage increases are always politically popular but are not necessarily good public policy. Increasing the minimum wage effectively increments the entire wage scale by a similar amount, thereby increasing labor costs for businesses of all sizes across the board, making some businesses less competitive. This often results in layoffs, reduced hours and fewer benefits for workers, or increased prices for labor-produced goods and services. I would have supported the Republican compromise proposal calling for a phased $10 minimum wage as a significant increase over the current minimum wage of $7.50. Should the ballot measure fail, the new incoming legislature will likely reconsider the issue and hopefully a reasonable compromise minimum wage can be agreed upon.
The only real answer to low wages in Maine is economic growth. An expanding economy creates new businesses and generates more income for existing businesses. This results in more jobs, higher wages and more benefits for workers.
This is a great start at bringing minimum wage earners into the economy. As the cost of everything has risen, less jobs have moved past the minimum wage and folks working 40 hours are eligible for state aid. Also, by eliminating the tipped minimum, workers will get fair pay when business is slow but workers have to work anyway. It is a great referendum and ultimately ties the minimum wage to the rate of inflation.
I am very skeptical of ranked-choice voting because it is not a transparent system. On Election Night, voters and candidates await the results and (with the exception of a very close race requiring a recount) the results are clearly known as soon as the votes have been counted. Not so with ranked-choice voting. In cases where there are three or more choices, the final count would be tabulated later and not known on election night. This process could make a recount or other ballot dispute a nightmare to resolve. In my opinion, the simplest voting procedure is the best procedure, and is also the one least likely to be confusing or easy to manipulate. If Mainers want to resolve elections where no candidate gets 50%, lets have a runoff election.
Ranked choice voting is a great way to make sure that the winning candidate has a majority of the votes. It also has the effect of cleaning up campaigns since voters will not react favorably and choose a candidate for their subsequent choice if they run a nasty campaign.
Should Maine prioritize law enforcement efforts to intercept drug traffickers over expanding access to substance abuse treatment, such those that incorporates medications like methadone and Suboxone?
Both law enforcement and treatment are necessary, and should not be viewed as mutually exclusive options. Law enforcement efforts are certainly necessary and appropriate to curtail the flow of dangerous drugs, such as heroin and cocaine, into Maine.
Prevention of opiate addiction is always better than finding an effective treatment after the fact. It is important to understand that opiate addiction is not necessarily the result of gateway or recreational drug use. A substantial number of such cases can be traced to the over-prescribing opiate pain killers following a medical procedure. Doctors must resist the temptation to over-prescribe opiate narcotics following a surgical procedure or as a response to patient complaints of chronic or non-specific pain. It is necessary to periodically review protocols that specify dosage and duration of prescriptions; shorter courses will limit access but still allow the physician to intervene if pain control is inadequate.
One young man who I met recently told me his story: he became hooked on opiates by taking prescription drugs prescribed to a friend. He ended up in prison, but has turned his life around through the help of a compassionate couple he met when he was released. He told me that their non-judgmental support helped him to avoid returning to the drug scene by giving him the courage to see that there was another path for his life. He told me that his success (he now has a painting and home repair business and has paid off most of his debts and obligations) also depended upon separating himself from his old community so that he would not be confronted by daily judgment and temptation by former acquaintances. He also told me that the greatest fear of a typical addict was fear of the side-effects from detoxification. From his experience, I understand that a caring community-based support system is essential.
Unfortunately, the detoxification and rehabilitation vs. Methadone debate overlooks the fundamental fact that different people have different body chemistries, and no two people will necessarily respond the same way to any given treatment strategy. Some will react well to detoxification and rehab; others will become easily addicted to opiates and cannot break dependency through detoxification alone. For such victims, Methadone or Suboxone may be the only practical approach to fighting the ravages of opiate dependency.
A practical State strategy will be to recognize the great need for both approaches, and apply either, as indicated, based upon the individuals history and medical profile.
No, The war on drugs has been a 40 year failed experiment. We need to reduce demand by educating kids to the dangers. We need to do this with reasonable and intelligent arguments that can be understood and respected. Trying to scare our kids away from drugs has had the opposite result so it is time refine the message. We also need to provide as much treatment as necessary to help every addict return to a drug free life and become a valued member of their communities.
Should Maines constitutional officers -- the secretary of state, the attorney general, auditor and the treasurer -- continue to be elected by the Legislature or by statewide popular vote?
Maine has always selected these four constitutional officers by vote of the Legislature and this system has worked well; I see no reason to change our current system.
Some states, like Massachusetts, elect their constitutional officers by statewide election; others, including North Carolina, actually elect state department heads such as their Labor Commissioner, Agriculture Commissioner, Superintendent of Public Instruction and Insurance Commissioner. I see no advantage to subjecting positions like these to partisan election.
Is the size of Maines Legislature appropriate? Should the pay for legislative service be increased?
Over the years, many proposals to reduce the size of the House of Representatives have been introduced, most commonly to 99 seats from the current 151. Fewer districts would mean geographically larger districts, and in very rural areas, citizens would most likely live long distances away from their elected Representatives. This is not an ideal situation. Having been a reapportionment consultant, I have actually drafted 99-seat and 105-seat plans, and I know that either could work and, if properly drafted, would result in fewer small communities split between adjoining districts. In any event, Legislative pay does not need to be increased at the present time.
There are plenty of examples of House districts covering larger areas in other states. I could see a reduction in Representatives with an increase in pay to value the job. This would draw in folks who would be great assets to the people of Maine, but who could not afford to take on such a big job for $12,000 per year.
Would you support sanctioning another elected official if he or she made public comments or statements that were considered racist, offensive or prejudicial?
Yes, depending, of course, upon the nature and content of the remark. Maine people are very concerned about the tone and demeanor of politicians and elected officials, and have expressed to me their great desire to see more civility in the political process. I couldnt agree more! Recent trends toward partisanship and division in both Washington and Augusta have frustrated our ability to address critical problems and work together to find solutions to them. This has to stop. It is up to each candidate and every elected official to embrace the highest level of ethical standards and demeanor with respect to their personal and professional conduct. And most importantly, it is time to insist that our elected officials treat each other, and their constituents, with the respect to which they are entitled. Only when this happens will Congress and the State Legislature begin to earn back public confidence.
Yes, we have a higher standard of behavior to maintain because of our position. If someone is so obtuse as to not understand fundamental decency or civility, the legislature should be able to help educate them.
No, these laws are just ways to further reduce the wages and benefits of workers. Unions forced companies to value their workers and to add benefits to the jobs. The goal of many corporations now is to pay as little as possible, reduce benefits and make random schedules that make it hard to juggle work and families.
Yes, we have opened the door and have no need to protect any private corporation because it is already here and makes millions of dollars off our citizens. Casinos are a business and competition makes businesses better.
What is the biggest barrier to economic development in Maine and what can the Legislature do to address it?
Maine needs to develop and implement a comprehensive strategic plan for economic growth. Any successful economic growth strategy must be built around several factors: building and maintaining a modern transportation system to promote convenient access and passage of tourists, products, goods and services and raw materials through our state; creating a first-class education system that prepares our youth for the modern economy, that recognizes that different career paths and expectations require different skills, and that inspires our youth to grow intellectually and to develop their natural skills to complement their interests; expanding Maines current efforts to extend fast Internet access to more communities as a major catalyst for business growth and for personal connectivity; encouraging greater use of renewable energy and clean fossil fuels to reduce our dependency on oil; expanding upon the Administrations zero-based budget initiative to control spending and promote program efficiency; and finally, to create a review process for business and environmental regulations patterned on zero-based budget analysis procedures that will give state government a measure of their effectiveness, efficiency, cost, impact on business and compatibility with state and community policy goals.
The massive size of our state and the small population that has to pay for the infrastructure and care of our resources. We need to draw more people to what we have by protecting those resources and making it easy and desirable for people to visit. We have to create jobs that cannot be exported to 25 cent per hour countries, while keeping our workers out of the economy with stagnant or reduced wages as the cost of goods and services continues to rise.
Census data show Maines population is aging and decreasing, with some economists suggesting that immigration is the best way to reverse those trends. What should the state do to address this demographic trend?
By most accounts, Maine has the oldest population in the US and this trend is unlikely to reverse if population growth depends upon the native birthrate alone. On average, Maine demographics are changing by 34 births and 40 deaths per day. Moreover, many of our young people leave the state following graduation to seek opportunity elsewhere. This trend has ominous consequences for Maines economic future. From American history, we are aware that past economic growth and expansion has been fueled by waves of immigrants; here in Maine, we have benefitted from the influx of French, Italian, Finnish and Irish immigrants who worked in the woods, in the mills, cut stone and in turn became the very fabric of our society and Maine culture. For this reason, we must welcome new immigrants to refresh our workforce and, in turn, provide Maine with ethnic and cultural diversity, as well as new ideas.
A practical approach can be drawn from the successes of the Maritime Provinces of Canada, a region that is similar in many ways to Maine. There are at least four points that we may consider from their recent experience:
We cannot depend upon the federal government to solve our manpower problem. It is up to Maine to put policies and incentives in place to attract immigrant manpower by making Maine an attractive place to work and build a future;
Maine must make an effort to recruit immigrants. If Maine remains unknown to them, they will not choose to locate here. This step will require the cooperation of employers in need of skills or of workers willing to learn them;
A strong private sector economy is essential to this process. This means keeping taxes low, encouraging job creation across many employment sectors including manufacturing, and being friendly to small business. Industrious people want to locate where there is opportunity; and,
The larger cities and counties are most likely to attract immigrant populations since these places usually offer a support structure of other immigrant families, plus more employment opportunity. Experience shows that over time, new populations will locate in outlying areas, particularly as opportunity for employment is expanded.
To these points, I would add two others:
The first is that Maine needs to recognize professional skills learned in other countries. As Senator Amy Volk pointed out, It makes no sense for a dental hygienist to drive a taxi when many Maine communities are without adequate dental care;
The second point is that we need to be open and welcoming as a society. The surest way to facilitate the assimilation of any new population is through respect, interest, interaction and curiosity about their culture. And when we follow this path, we will quickly learn that we are not so different after all.
Welcome folks who are willing to come here and raise families. Most immigrants are ready and willing to work so we need to remove any barriers to them being employable from the first day they arrive. We need these young families desperately with the services jobs that are not being filled for our elderly.
What is the most pressing issue in Maine these questions have not addressed?
Reducing Property Taxes.
The 120th Maine Legislature established a goal of state funding of education at a level of 55%. This goal was established for two important reasons: first, to ensure adequate funding for Maine schools; and second, to relieve property owners of an ever-increasing burden of funding education primarily through the property tax. In recent years, the state commitment has slipped, leaving our cities and towns to pick up the difference. At the same time, the Legislatures commitment to Revenue Sharing has also slipped, leaving municipalities with fewer dollars for local public works and infrastructure maintenance. Rocklands situation serves as a case in point. The States share of Rocklands education funding has slipped to about 35%, and Rockland has also lost about $750,000 in Revenue Sharing monies over the past decade. But Rockland is also facing significant infrastructure expenses for the library, sewer and storm water separation mandated by the EPA, and repairs to the Wastewater Treatment Facility. Rocklands mill rate is currently 21.72 at 100% valuation, a figure that may be difficult to maintain without relief; other cities and towns throughout Maine face a similar burden. The solution must include a new commitment to State Revenue Sharing, implementing a strategy to move toward the 55% education funding goal, and State bonding for environmental and wastewater infrastructure improvements. There must also be a corresponding reduction of local property taxes as Maine approaches the 55% target, to be implemented through a formula that takes population, valuation and tax effort into account.
Moving to renewable energy generation. We are way behind with a technology that create jobs that stay here, eliminates fossil fuel emissions which will protect our health and environment and reduce the cost of energy to our residents.
We need to move to a system of universal healthcare that controls costs while providing services to all. With all the money wasted on insurance company greed, we could run a program for the people of Maine helped them when they became sick instead of driving them into bankruptcy at a vulnerable time.