Is Maine too generous in providing social services to its residents? Which government benefits should be increased or decreased?
Maine is all over the map on this depending on the services and the circumstances of the residents. Its not a question of which benefits to increase or decrease, but rather whether DHHS is effective in administering state and federal funds properly to people who need them so Mainers improve their circumstances and get out of poverty. Its also a question of providing proper assistance to people with disabilities and the elderly to live their lives independently as long as possible, and have their needs met when that is no longer possible. A simple fact: DHHS has accumulated 100 million dollars of unspent TANF federal grant money meant to help children, while the number of children in extreme poverty has increased 50% from 2010 to 2014. Clearly we need to make DHHS responsible for achieving results far better than this as part of holding state government accountable to Maine people.
Do you support expanding or raising the sales tax to lower the state income tax? Why or why not?
No, I dont support more giveaways to millionaires by shifting more of our taxes onto the shrinking middle class and poor. The sales tax is regressive, impacting lower income people far more than wealthier people. Middle income Mainers are already paying a larger percentage of their income in combined state and local taxes than the wealthiest 1 percent, and its even worse for low income Maine families. The Governors proposal would push an even greater burden onto Maine people who can least afford it, while providing the greatest benefit to millionaires. Its just plain wrong.
Question 1 Marijuana legalization and regulation - This is a very difficult question for me, understanding potential good and bad impacts of passage. I am leaning toward supporting Question 1 because many of the concerns with its passage depend not on the concept of legalization, but on the details of its implementation. With local control and opportunities for regulation included in the language it should be possible to address the bulk of the concerns. Perhaps most importantly, by bringing sale of marijuana into the light, the odds of its being a gateway to dangerous drugs is minimized.
Question 2 Education funding - I support the state living up to its obligation to fund 55% of K-12 education, and this question would do so in a way that increases tax fairness. So I support question 2. In the last 12 years we have gotten close but never reached the legislative mandate for the state to fund at least 55% of total K-12 education funding. And in recent years the State of Maine has moved further from this goal, not closer. This initiative is the peoples way of saying here is how you are going to get to 55%. I believe in planning for things and working together to achieve them, which is why I introduced a joint order for members of the Education, Taxation, and Appropriations committees to meet and plan how to get to 55%. Unfortunately the order was amended by the Republican Senate majority to a study group adversarial to public schools, and consequently the order died. The coalition of parents, teachers and other organizations that worked together on Question 2 collected more than 95,000 signatures to put it before voters and get the job done.
Question 3 Background Checks - Maine has a serious problem with domestic violence. And about half of all homicides in the state are domestic homicides. So while background checks on private gun sales may create an inconvenience for some, this is an important way to keep firearms out of the hands of dangerous people, including domestic violence perpetrators, and to prevent the hundreds of people who fail a background check at a federally licensed gun dealer each year from simply buying one through a private sale. In states where this background check loophole has been closed, 46 percent fewer women are shot to death. I strongly believe saving lives is worth the inconvenience. If there are ways we can achieve this while making it simpler for people I am committed to fixing those issues, but we are overdue for common sense background checks.
Question 4 Minimum Wage - The minimum wage in Maine has not increased in over 7 years. Meanwhile the cost of household expenses has gone up significantly. This increase would start at $9 and increase $1 per year until reaching $12 in 2020, and keep Maines rate competitive with other New England states minimum wages. Though some people think the minimum wage only affects teenagers, thats not todays reality. Two-thirds of those earning the minimum wage in Maine are adult women. And most of them provide the only household income. One in four Maine children under age 5 lives in poverty. No one working full time should live in poverty, but far too many Maine women, and their children, do exactly that. Its time to increase Maines minimum wage.
Question 5 Ranked Choice Voting - Ranked Choice Voting is equivalent to having runoff elections, but without the added expense, added delay, and drop-off in voter participation of separate runoff elections. It prevents spoilers and strategic voting, allowing everyone to vote for who they most want to represent them as first choice, and rank in their order of preference who they would vote for next if that choice were eliminated in a runoff. It encourages positive campaigning because winning may rely not only on being many voters first choice, but also being other voters second or third choice, depending on how close the election is. Lastly, it ensures that the person who wins has more support from a majority of voters than the alternatives, something we have lacked in 9 of the last 11 gubernatorial elections. And that has happened in races electing independents, Republicans, and Democrats alike. This is not a partisan issue, it is a campaigning and electoral process improvement issue.
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?
No, we cannot solve the drug addiction problem with law enforcement alone. It is time to give equal priority to all three aspects of effective drug addiction reduction - enforcement of drug dealing and trafficking laws, treatment of people with a drug addiction, and prevention programs to keep people from becoming addicted.
We already increased funding for more MDEA agents and related support costs. To get ahead of this serious and growing problem we also have to make larger investments as a state in ensuring there are more treatment beds for inpatient treatment and more patient openings for outpatient treatment of drug addiction. And we should accept federal dollars to expand Medicaid (MaineCare) in Maine. Many people seeking help with their addiction are being denied essential services if they dont have insurance coverage. Hospitals and clinics that do treat individuals without insurance coverage are running up charity care debt that Medicaid expansion would reimburse with federal dollars. Lastly, since DHHS cut the School Health Coordinator program, and largely dismantled the public health nurse program, we are not doing enough to operate evidence-based drug addiction prevention programs in our schools.
Enforcement, treatment, and prevention deserve equal support.
Here in Lincoln County Ive been holding meetings since December 2015 with all the police chiefs, sheriff, Lincoln Health, and Mid Coast Hospitals Addiction Resource Center. In July they signed an MOU that agrees on a problem statement, a community based approach, and commitments from each party on how they will work together to get people who are ready for help into treatment for drug addiction. We call it the Lincoln County Recovery Collaborative. The CLC Y has been an active participant in achieving this as well. Recently training was conducted for officers and 30 people participated in Angel volunteer training. I fully expect the program to go operational soon.
Is the size of Maines Legislature appropriate? Should the pay for legislative service be increased?
No one has provided a good reason to change the Legislatures size, nor the level of representation provided to Maine people and communities by our current House and Senate district sizes. Legislative pay, averaging around $12,000 per year has become a financial challenge for some legislators, and for me as a State Senator committed to public service including constituent and community work throughout the year, its far less than minimum wage for the hours involved. However Ive never been a fan of elected officials voting themselves pay increases. If the legislature does take such an action it should do so in the form of a referendum question to allow voters to decide.
Would you support sanctioning another elected official if he or she made public comments or statements that were considered racist, offensive or prejudicial?
Yes. We represent the interests of all constituents, and cannot abandon our responsibility to speak for those who would be harmed by such actions by an elected official. Our job is not only to work on legislation, but also to ensure that government works as it should for all Maine people. That too is our duty.
Would you support a so-called right to work law in Maine?
No. I know firsthand how important it is for workers who choose to organize to have collective bargaining and protection of their rights in the workplace. Its a democratic process wherein workers vote whether to have a union. Workers there need to respect that decision-making process just as townspeople do in matters voted upon in town meetings. Right-to-work bills seek to allow some workers to ignore that democratic decision, to benefit from collective bargaining and representation in grievances without paying any share of the costs of those services. RTW law supporters are promoting an anti-democratic system built on getting something for nothing.
Would you support legislation or a ballot question to allow more casinos in Maine?
I believe expanding gambling, particularly with out-of-state owners siphoning off profit, is not smart economic development. More casinos anywhere but very northern Maine would also steal business from existing casinos. The tribes have stronger economic arguments for needing gaming revenues, related to all their lands being held in trust by the Federal government, preventing any borrowing against their land. And despite past promises, the tribes in Maine have never been allowed to have a casino. For those reasons I would only support a casino in northern Maine for the benefit of federally recognized tribes.
What is the biggest barrier to economic development in Maine and what can the Legislature do to address it?
The biggest barrier is our failure to invest in so many aspects of Maines future economy. We have not invested in Research & Development through bonds in 6 years, leaving Maine far behind our New England neighbors and the rest of the nation in R&D investment.
The top two factors when businesses decide where to locate or expand are sufficient infrastructure and an educated and capable workforce. Yet Maine is significantly underfunding maintenance and improvement of our infrastructure - roads, bridges, ports, multimodal facilities and broadband. In recent years we have also slid further from meeting the States obligation to fund 55% of K-12 education and have decreased State funding of Community Colleges and Universities.
We must begin to make significant investment in growth of sectors of our economy based on our strengths as a state - our farming, fishing and local foods infrastructure, solar and other renewable energy sources. And we must develop a coordinated plan to make energy efficiency improvements to the 450,000 Maine homes that seriously need them.
Maine needs a strong vision of a healthy economy built upon our natural advantages and the strengths of Maine workers. Maine needs an economic plan, and a comprehensive energy strategy. In my work on the Government Oversight Committee, I am committed to proposing changes to ensure Maine has an economic plan for the future. And, because of my personal commitment to the issue, I have been meeting with others to draft a proposed comprehensive energy strategy for our state.
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?
Maine needs to ensure this is a place where young people can put down roots and start families and where people from other parts of the US and from other countries want to come and contribute to our economy. Vital communities, good paying jobs, excellent schools and affordable housing and childcare are essential to attracting and retaining a younger demographic. We can achieve these things by acting on the economic and job creating policies indicated in my prior answer, and changing other policies to ensure everyone has access to quality childcare and affordable housing.
What is the most pressing issue in Maine these questions have not addressed?
There are many that are pressing to various subsets of Maine people.
We have a shortage of affordable housing, and particularly elder housing which would benefit from releasing that $15 million bond money approved by 69% of Maine voters in November 2015. We have an elder housing shortage in Maine of 9000 units.
We need to expanding Medicaid (MaineCare) by accepting Federal funding, an action supported by 83 percent of Maine people. There are nearly 70,000 Maine people who earn too little to qualify for coverage subsidy in the ACA exchange, who would gain health coverage, including many veterans. Everyone would benefit because private insurance costs are 7% lower in states which have expanded Medicaid. Hospitals and physicians would incur less charity care expense.
Maine has the third highest rate of hunger in the nation.
Maine is the only state in which the infant mortality rate is worse in this decade than the prior decade.
From 2010 to 2014 the number of children in extreme poverty (less than 50% of the Federal Poverty level) increased from 6% to 9%. Thats a stark increase leading to nearly 1 in 10 Maine children living in extreme poverty.
Clearly our legislature has many serious issues to address that are important to Maine people. I look forward to working with others to solve these and other problems in the Maine State Senate.