1. I believe the operative word in the discussion around Social Services is Accountability. Programs such as TANF, SNAP, and ASPIRE are necessary for those individuals in need with a focus on returning them to the workplace. Our experience continues to show these programs require strict supervision and structural reform. Its increasingly important to ensure that service providers are doing their part in making sure that benefits are actually going to qualified recipients.
2. I am not a supporter of raising the sales tax to lower state income tax. However, I am a supporter of tax fairness. As we know, income tax reductions benefit top end wage earners the most. Increased property taxes, sales tax, and even gas taxes would tend to disproportionately hurt the middle class and lower wage earners. It continues to be important to move ahead with comprehensive tax reform that takes tax fairness into consideration so that everyone pays their fair share.
3. The question of legalization of marijuana is now in the hands of Maine voters. As a private citizen, I am pleased that Maine is successfully managing the legalization of medical marijuana. Over time I have heard about the benefits from constituents who are caregivers and patients. They are concerned about future availability of certain products following recreational legalization. Personally, I am glad we no longer jail recreational users, but would prefer to allow those states where recreational marijuana is legal to work out the kinks before we join them. The record seems to show there has been an increase in impaired driving in states where recreational marijuana is legalized. It might be a good idea for police to have a roadside sobriety test similar to the breathalyzer test for alcohol before we go ahead.
4. I do support this initiative. Again it is in the hands of the voters and as I pointed out in question 2, those with means can certainly help us to finally attain our goal that the state would pay 55% of public education costs as required 12 years ago. Question 2 is expected to generate about $157 million for direct classroom instruction at a time when the cost of education is rising. If this initiative fails, communities will once again be faced with raising property taxes or cutting school programs.
5. I believe background checks are consistent with responsible gun ownership. Maine has a long standing tradition with firearms and their safe use. Unlike many other states the criminal use of firearms isnt as much of a problem here. However, unrestricted tailgate sales at gun shows or through classified ads online or in magazines can be a problem. Firearms originally sold in Maine are being trafficked and used criminally in other states. If we could save the life of a single police officer or a child in Hartford or Boston or New York City wouldnt it be worth it?
6. I believe that Maine should raise its minimum wage as outlined in Question 4. However, I wouldnt be surprised to see the tipped worker section of the referendum come back to the Legislature if it passes. Tipped workers have a range of opportunities that include survival wages to extraordinarily high tips depending on location and whether theyre employed at high end or low end establishments.
8. This is not an either or question. We must do both to achieve a balance between the two. Our jails are overflowing; many with inmates for non-violent crimes that include alcohol and drug abuse and mental health issues. These individuals need treatment. Treatment is less expensive than incarceration with a possible upside for those desperately in need of help. It is imperative that Methadone and Suboxone treatment facilities become regionally accessible. It makes little sense to have patients spending hours every day traveling back and forth to Bangor for treatment.
9. This is a question best put before the voters in the form of a referendum. Wider elections offer more opportunities for money to look to buy influence in government. I dont believe in elected judges any more than I believe our Attorney General or Secretary of State (in charge of elections) should be exposed to existing campaign finance arrangements.
10. Maines Legislature looks large in number, but if you dig a little deeper, you will see that according to the last Census our state is the Most Rural State in the nation. Why is this important? A normal House District is supposed to include approximately 8,800 people. A normal Senate district should include about 38,000 constituents. We have a few municipalities with several House Districts and we have House Districts that include as many as 30 townships. If you consider the size of the territory involved it doesnt sense to increase the size of either House or Senate Districts and expect proper representation. As far as legislative pay is involved, one should consider that the current mix of legislators runs from those of means to those who are barely making it. I personally think its important to maintain the mix. We should ensure that those less well off have the same opportunity to serve as everyone else.
Barriers to economic development in Maine include our aging infrastructure and lack of high-speed broadband access, but the elephant in the room is our aging population. We are not alone in this, but as the oldest state in the nation we will have lots of competition trying to attract young educated workers to our state. Even so, there are opportunities here. Some firms seeking a skilled workforce might still be attracted to our state. Especially those industries catering to older customers, including healthcare and hospitality that would encounter growing markets. Ill discuss possible solutions to our shrinking workforce in my response to the next question.
15. Weve already begun to move in a positive direction. The University of Maine has launched a program that offers outstanding educational opportunities to prospective students from northeastern states. Our university system will accept in lieu of full out of state tuition, an amount equal to the amount that student would pay for in-state tuition at their own land grant state university. We are told the program is experiencing solid positive numbers. If the statistics are correct, we should expect large numbers of these students to make Maine their home. In addition to programs like this we must all work together to make our state an extraordinarily welcoming place. We must lose the tradition of using terms such as people from away can never be Mainers. Its these people who are essential to the future health of our beautiful state. Additionally, in order to retain our own children we will have to make it easier for them to make their way here with programs that offer increased student loan forgiveness.
Childhood hunger is growing at an alarming rate, 40% of Maines school age children are reported to be food insecure. Ensuring that children receive the nutrition they need to be healthy and succeed in school and life is essential. Economic opportunities are needed so our young people will choose to live and work in Maine. Our seniors who have made Maine their home and contributed to Maines way of life will also need additional support as they age.