Is Maine too generous in providing social services to its residents? Which government benefits should be increased or decreased?
I believe that programs that are proven to work, and that help hardworking families make ends meet during tough times should be expanded. For example, as an elected town official, I understand the benefits of programs to seniors such as the Property Tax Fairness Program, which offsets the tax shift from income taxes to property taxes on those who seniors who struggle to pay their property taxes. This and other programs targeted to help seniors, particularly those that help seniors remain at home while they age, should be protected and expanded.
The changes we have made over the last few years have brought our social services into balance by reinstating the requirement for able-bodied adults without small children to be enrolled in a training or educational program, work search or volunteer opportunity before they can collect food stamps. We need to direct more services to elderly Mainers who want to age in place or who need safe, affordable housing. I also believe we need to increase property tax relief programs for Maine residents.
With $170 million in the rainy day fund and a $92 million surplus, I do not believe we need to increase sales tax in order to continue to lower income tax. I would like to see this session of the legislature decrease income tax again, with a goal of 5% by 2020.
I support the use of marijuana for medical reasons, but I have several concerns about the referendum question that would allow recreational use. Maines law enforcement community and many educators have publicly come out against it, questioning the wisdom of legalizing another mind-altering substance when we already have so many people who abuse alcohol. Because marijuana remains in the body for long periods of time, the business community has many questions as well. It is not clear what their rights will be if a drug-tested employee tests positive in a state with legal recreational pot. Its possible they smoked before work and its possible they smoked a week before at a party. There is no way to tell. Until these questions have been settled, I am uncomfortable endorsing full legalization.
I believe that state aid to schools is underfunded. We have had 12 years to fully fund this voter mandated program at 55%, yet it has never reached that threshold. As a Town Councilor, I have witnessed the negative impact on towns when the state does not fund the schools. When there is no money from the state, towns raise property taxes and hurt the families who are least able to pay.
A tax on our most highly skilled medical professionals, entrepreneurs and small businesses would be extremely dangerous to our fragile economy.
Recently, I was in a local pizza shop and there were two couples who said they already own property in Florida and intended to make it their residency if Question 2 passes. Thats four more people who will not be frequenting local businesses half the year, patronizing local banks, insurance agencies, financial planners, accountants, attorneys, the list goes on. These are also, statistically, the people who support local charities and sit on governance boards. Do we really want to chase them out of state? How is that helpful?
My prediction is that if Question 2 passes and is not offset by an overall reduction in Maines income tax, it will result in a net loss of income tax revenue within 5-10 years. It simply will.
Then there is this message I received from a highly specialized doctor who just began learning about the referendum questions:
Hey-why have we not heard anything against Question 2? Hugely bad idea. Professionals here already earn less than elsewhere in the country. Do you know how hard it is to attract good doctors here already?
Another highly skilled high earner put it this way:
Maine already faces steep challenges in attracting well-educated young people to move here to work for lower salaries. Does anyone think this problem gets easier by imposing a tax rate up to twice as high as the rate in Boston? (Not to mention the comparison to income tax-free New Hampshire.)
The teacher's union promoting Question 2 claims it only affects 2% of Mainers, but I believe it affects 100% of Mainers when it pushes out higher earners or keeps potential higher earners away affecting future employment, future economic and population growth, future real estate values, future charitable contributions, and even future school enrollment levels.
The teacher's union also claims that Maine's income tax reductions have only benefitted our wealthiest citizens. That is simply untrue.The first round of income tax reductions (effective in 2013) resulted in an average 83.6% reduction in overall tax burden for the lowest 20% income group (vs just an 8.9% reduction for the highest 10% income group). Before the cuts went into effect, the top 10% in Maine paid 54.9% of 2012 total taxes in 2013 that group paid 56.9%. In other words, the tax cuts caused Maine taxes to become MORE progressive, not less.
The 3% tax would also punish married couples by imposing the 10.15% rate on income over $200,000 even if this consists of two different earners. It would become the only Maine income tax bracket that imposes a marriage penalty.
What amounts to a 40+% jump in the top Maine rate doesnt apply to C Corps but will hit an S Corp or LLC. Thus, family businesses are especially vulnerable.
Lastly, the funds raised by this new tax will go to the most affluent school districts, bypassing a school funding formula which has been studied and determined to be fair in terms of measuring communities' capacity to raise revenue.
I am a gun owner and the Chair of the Firing Range Committee in my town. I believe that not everyone should have access to guns. Background checks are important . Any questionable concerns regarding transfers and possession while hunting can be addressed by tweaking those details of this legislation.
I believe it is important to note that Maine has one of the highest rates of gun ownership per capita in the nation and yet have a remarkably low rate of gun violence. I support laws that protect the rights of law-abiding gun owners in Maine. I presented an amendment to the recently passed concealed carry law that would have required gun sellers to provide safety information to those legally purchasing handguns. I do have concerns about this years ballot measure on guns because of concerns that it goes too far in limiting transfers of weapons, such as hunting rifles, among family members and friends.
Hardworking Mainers serve to be paid living wages. This legislation allows for a graduated increase which gives small business owners like myself time to budget and plan accordingly for this common sense measure.
As Senate Chairwoman of the Legislatures Labor, Commerce, Research and Economic Development Committee, I worked for two years on a bipartisan proposal to gradually increase the minimum wage to $10 an hour. I believe the ballot initiative to raise the rate to $12 will be harmful to Maines economy. It will raise the cost of doing business which will mean fewer job opportunities for our younger workers who are just entering the labor force and for some disabled people, as well, particularly outside of Cumberland and York counties. The referendum mandates too much, too soon for job providers and would likely be an enforcement nightmare for the Department of Labor and a source of confusion to small business owners because it introduces indexing, meaning the wage will change annually in perpetuity. I am confident we can find a better solution in the Legislature.
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?
The statistics on this are clear. We cannot just enforce our way out of the opioid crisis that grips this state. Treatment modalities of all types are needed for those who suffer from substance abuse disorder.
I do not believe we are doing enough to combat the rise in heroin addiction and overdoses in our communities. Every death linked to substance abuse disorder is a tragedy for the users family, friends and for all of Maine. Particularly with an aging population like ours, we cannot afford to lose a single young person. I am proud of the steps the Legislature took during the last session to limit the prescription of opioids, add more drug agents to the streets and increase resources for addiction treatment and prevention. We need to continue to review the innovative community-based programs that are working and replicate them, while ending those that are ineffective. We also need to ensure that our young people have hope in their own future. Hopelessness is the most dangerous precursor to drug addiction. Many of the kids that turn to drugs are from difficult backgrounds, but they can learn resilience. Reaching kids before they self-medicate means plugging them in to effective education and keeping them engaged with extra-curriculars, job training, community service or work that they enjoy. It can be a lot of work, but their success will often end a vicious cycle of abuse.
I do not really have an opinion on this. Our current system seems to work well, but many states do elect constitutional officers by popular election. I would not support the initiative if the elections would be publicly funded. We already spend way too much money on elections in this state.
The size of our legislature is appropriate, given the rural nature of so many of our districts. If we were to increase the pay for legislators, we would likely see a younger legislature with fewer retired people serving. However, the older people I have served with benefit from a wealth of life experiences. Overall, I believe my colleagues are there for the right reasons and do their very best for their constituents in spite of the poor pay and benefits.
Would you support a so-called right to work law in Maine?
Right to work legislation is an effort by out-of-state special interest groups to tell Mainers how to run our businesses. I oppose right to work laws and any legislation that makes corporate profit more important than the wages of the workers.
More than half the states in the America are now Right to Work, which simply means that you do not have to join a union or pay union fees at your job. It has become a big factor in corporations choosing site locations. States that are not Right to Work are immediately disqualified by many decision-makers. Becoming the first Right to Work state in the Northeast would be a huge benefit to Maine economically and it would not cost a dime. Some labor unions have actually grown in Right to Work states because they became more responsive to members' needs rather than outwardly focused on political concerns.
What is the biggest barrier to economic development in Maine and what can the Legislature do to address it?
The biggest barrier to economic development in this state is the lack of good paying jobs that keep graduating students in Maine. We need to be encouraging businesses to pay good wages for quality work that attracts young people to this state. We need to be supporting schools and training programs that prepare our young people for good paying jobs.
It is difficult to pinpoint a single barrier to economic development. We certainly need to address our aging population, replace retiring workers with young people and continue to lower income taxes. One issue that we seem unable or have been unwilling to address is lowering the cost of electricity. BIW cited electricity costs as a huge factor in why they lost the Coast Guard contract they had bid competitively on. To their union's credit, they came to the table and made some tough concessions in order to contain costs, but electricity at twice the price as the shipyard down south was too much of an obstacle. It's an example of the struggles Maine businesses face to stay competitive. Simply paying the lowest electricity rates in New England isn't good enough if we want a strong manufacturing environment in a global economy.
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?
I agree that immigration is another factor that will help reverse this trend. A part of addressing this trend must start with elected officials ending their attacks on immigrant communities and communities of color. Hanging an 'open for business' sign is one thing, but acting like a state that is truly open and welcoming is quite another. The legislature should help ensure that career training and career ladders are available to Maine's immigrant communities, to help put people to work and to bolster Maine's economy.
What is the most pressing issue in Maine these questions have not addressed?
As a Town Councilor, I receive frequent messages and emails from seniors who are struggling to remain in their homes, pay for their medications, and stay well nourished. When it is time for more specialized care, the family has to jump through almost insurmountable barriers and red tape to qualify their loved one for Maine Care. There is a huge unmet need for programming for those folks who have lived and worked hard all their lives, but are now left with anxiety about living out their lives in dignity. This needs to change.