The Bangor Daily News asked all of the gubernatorial candidates their positions on several issues of importance to Maine voters. In some cases, their answers have been edited or excerpted for space. For the complete responses, visit www.bangordailynews.com.
Q. Does LD 1 and its statutory spending caps actually provide property tax relief in Maine? If not, do you have a better plan for lowering property taxes statewide?
A. According to two independent economists, LD 1 did provide property tax relief in 2005. Property tax growth dropped from 5 percent to 1.7 percent. Maine residents received $65 million in property tax relief, while businesses received $10 million.
Q. How will you vote on TABOR on the November ballot and why?
A. I will vote no on TABOR. TABOR is the wrong solution to a real problem. My solution is a constitutional amendment to cap valuation for the purposes of property taxes for year-round Maine residents, require 90 percent of new state funding for local education be passed on in direct property tax relief, and the strengthening of spending caps.
Q. What is your opinion on a local option sales tax for the state’s major service centers?
A. I have supported local option taxes only for a fixed period of time for dedicated capital projects that would stimulate economic development.
Q. Is Maine’s current sales and use tax system effective? If not, how would you propose changing it?
A. The sales tax is an important component of Maine’s state and local tax system that needs to be maintained so that the state does not become too reliant on income or property taxes. Maine’s sales tax needs to be periodically reviewed to make sure that it provides a stable source of revenue at a competitive tax rate.
Q. In 2005, Maine’s top income tax rate of 8.5 percent for a single filer kicked in at $17,700 annual income. Should that be changed? If so, why?
A. The top marginal rate kicks in at too low a level. We instituted “indexing,” which means that the income brackets for our rates are adjusted for inflation so that Maine taxpayers are not subject to “bracket creep.”
Q. Would you support a flat personal income tax similar to Massachusetts that has a 5.3 percent across-the-board rate?
A. I would consider a flat personal income tax rate if it adds simplicity to our system of taxation and does not shift tax burden. A flat-rate proposal should be carefully considered and analyzed to ensure it would not create a disparate impact on Maine’s taxpayers, particularly the lower- and middle-income.
Q. Do you think Maine taxpayers should continue to fund the races for gubernatorial candidates under the Maine Clean Elections Act? If so, should the law be amended to increase the number of qualifying signatures and cash contributions needed to qualify?
A. Even though I chose not to utilize public funding for my campaign from the Maine Clean Elections program, I do support the act and funding for the program. I support a legislative review of the program to ensure it’s operating as intended by the public and that tightened controls are implemented as appropriate.
Q. With its 940 acres, Sears Island poses opportunities for the midcoast region. The island is owned by the Department of Transportation, which wants to reserve 280 acres for potential future transportation facilities. Environmental groups call the island the largest chunk of undeveloped island on the East Coast. How can these competing interests be balanced?
A. Sears Island and the Port of Searsport present an opportunity for balance and for consensus between Maine’s business and environmental interests. State, local and regional leaders have the opportunity to develop a vision, which will guide the future of the island while allowing Maine’s inland and coastal economies to grow.
Q. A study by the Margaret Chase Smith Policy Center at the University of Maine estimates that visitors going to Maine state parks last year spent more than $60 million on goods such as watercraft, clothing, coolers and camping equipment and on fees to the parks. Yet funding for park infrastructure improvements remains insufficient. Should we generate additional needed revenue by raising fees on recreational activities, imposing new taxes or some other method such as targeted lottery ticket promotions as has been done in the past?
A. A package of multiple funding options is under consideration, including a multiyear bond and a contribution program from businesses and the local communities that may provide stable, long-term investment while keeping our parks affordable for Maine citizens. I would not recommend imposing new taxes or increased fees for park upkeep.
Q. Do you support a liquefied natural gas terminal in Maine? Are there any conditions to your support? How about wind power? Do you have other ideas that could be implemented to reduce high energy costs in Maine?
A. LNG should come to Maine only with local governmental support, and following thorough and transparent review under all state permit requirements with no federal pre-emption. My goals for energy independence are: 1) using less energy; 2) using energy more efficiently; and, 3) using more renewable energy. I strongly support wind power in appropriate locations. I don’t take positions on specific projects that are seeking permits from Maine’s regulatory bodies.
Q. Do you consider the Dirigo Health initiative to be a success, failure, or something in between? Would you offer any changes or alternatives?
A. Dirigo Health is much more than an insurance plan and is a work in progress. It is succeeding – covering more than 19,000 people – launching a statewide plan to make Maine the healthiest state – creating a real public health system and creating the Maine Quality Forum to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of care we receive. For the first time we regulate insurance rates charged to small businesses.
Q. The Medicaid reimbursement system called the Maine Claims Management System continues to ensnarl payments to health care providers through computer snafus that now have cost the state an estimated $56 million – some $35 million more than originally anticipated. The problem has prompted many lawmakers to claim there is no accountability for the problem at DHHS. Do you agree and, if so, how would your administration change the system?
A. The original project accepted by the prior administration was underscoped and underbid, and the federal government has added new requirements. When the system failed to process claims, my administration supported alternative payments to providers to assure Maine’s most vulnerable citizens continue to access health care and to assure reimbursement for those services. Today the system adjudicates 92 percent of claims, far better than the old system at its best.
Q. Maine Medicaid is the largest Medicaid program in the country. Since 2003, the number of people on Maine Medicaid has increased by more than 36,000 (15.5 percent) or more than the entire population of Bangor. Should the state limit the number of eligible participants?
A. The state already limits the number of eligible participants, generally to those below the federal poverty level. Maine’s rate of uninsured is among the lowest in the nation, thanks in part to MaineCare.
Q. The Maine Department of Education recently signed a $41 million agreement with Apple Computer Corp. to provide new laptops to more than 30,000 seventh- and eighth-grade pupils and their teachers over the next four years. Should the state continue to fund the program?
A. Yes, this initiative is part of the state’s commitment to funding 55 percent of the costs of education.
Q. A state panel has recommended increasing the average size of school districts, unions, etc., to between 3,000 and 4,000 students, reducing their total number (currently at 286 schools) and the cost of administration to achieve $133 million in savings. What are your thoughts on the proposal?
A. Throughout the state of Maine, communities are discussing how to collaborate, coordinate and consolidate. It is clear there are efficiencies that can be achieved in the areas of administration and operating functions of schools.
Q. Do you support the expansion of slot machine gambling that now exists only in Bangor? Explain your position.
A. I do not support the expansion of slot machine gambling. Maine voters approved the law authoring racino gambling in 2002, and the Bangor location is the only site that has met the qualifications under that law. While I was opposed to this expansion of gambling in Maine, as governor I felt it was my responsibility to implement the will of the voters.
Q. Maine has a sex offender registry that recently was used to plan two murders in the state. Should the registry be continued as is, modified or eliminated?
A. We shouldn’t rush any changes to the sex offender registry.
Q. If the U.S. Supreme Court were to strike down Roe v. Wade and send the issue back to the states, would you support legislation restricting a woman’s right to obtain an abortion?
A. I support a woman’s right to reproductive choice. This includes access to accurate, current information regarding contraception, medical care and abortion services.
Q. Do you support either gay marriage or same-sex civil unions in Maine?
A. I don’t support changing Maine statutes to recognize same-sex marriage. That isn’t a fight that Maine needs now. I support Maine’s domestic-partner registry for committed same-sex couples.
Q. Do you think creationism should be taught alongside evolution in the public schools?
A. I do not support teaching creationism in Maine schools. Schools need to remain a place where we continue to educate our young people in evidence-based science. Families have the freedom and the choice to teach and practice their faith outside of the classroom.
Q. How would you propose funding the needed improvements to the state’s highways and bridges?
A. Our highway fund debt levels are at the lowest levels in recent history. We have borrowed less for highways and bridges in recent years than in recent decades. I support a strong 2007 bond ballot for highways and bridges.