April 05, 2020

Q and A on the issues with Barbara Merrill

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?

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. The spending caps in LD1 are reasonable, but they do not provide enough relief. Yes, I have a better, five-part plan:

1. Pass a constitutional amendment to prevent increases in the home tax evaluation greater than the rate of inflation.

2. Eliminate county government reliance on property tax.

3. Allow voters in any county to pass a one-cent county sales tax, with all of it applied to property tax relief.

4. Amend the school funding formula to give local voters more control over administrative and other such costs.

5. Adopt a new state budget process requiring every state law or regulation to measure its impact on local property taxes.

Q. How will you vote on TABOR on the November ballot and why?

A. I’ll vote against it because TABOR is both less and more than Maine needs. It is less than we need to control spending at the state level because it can simply be overruled by the Legislature. We need a constitutional amendment to control state spending, such as the one I sponsored last year. At the local level, TABOR would interfere too much with town meeting budget decision-making.

Q. What is your opinion on a local option sales tax for the state’s major service centers?

A. I favor amending the law to allow voters in any county to pass a one-cent county sales tax, where all the money must be used for a dollar-for-dollar property tax reduction.

Q. Is Maine’s current sales and use tax system effective? If not, how would you propose changing it?

A. Yes. I would like to dedicate all of the revenue it raises to education. I believe that our highway system has benefited from a dedicated tax, and education is even more important to our economic future.

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. Yes, because the starting point of the top bracket was established 30 years ago. If the amount had been adjusted for inflation, the comparable top bracket today would start at approximately $67,000. I support raising the top bracket to reflect today’s income levels.

Q. Would you support a flat personal income tax similar to Massachusetts that has a 5.3 percent across-the-board rate?

A. I am not inclined to support a flat tax without being convinced that it would be fair in the context of our overall tax mix.

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 number of qualifying signatures and cash contributions needed to qualify?

A. Yes, gubernatorial candidates should remain eligible. The threshold for qualifying should not be changed; it is currently very difficult to qualify.

Q. With its 940 acres, Sears Island poses opportunities for the midcoast region. The island is owned by the Department of Transportation that 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. Much of the economy in the midcoast depends on a clean and beautiful Penobscot Bay. I am convinced that locating an industrial site on the island would be a net loss for Maine. I would only support development that preserves open spaces and is compatible with other economic activities in the bay.

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 a targeted lottery ticket promotion as has been done in the past?

A. The Legislature keeps voting to do more for more and more causes and does a poorer and poorer job at traditional activities, such as managing state parks. We don’t need and can’t afford another tax. What we need and can’t afford to do without is a new budget process that makes these traditional state responsibilities a priority.

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. Before any LNG terminal is located in Maine, all the surrounding towns should have to give it the green light. If I voted in one of those towns, I would vote against it because I don’t see enough economic benefit to offset the costs. I am a strong supporter of moving aggressively to develop more wind power, including the proposed Redington wind farm proposal. I support alternative, renewable energy and providing tax incentives to support shifts away from fossil fuels.

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 is somewhere in between. The administration has overly focused on it at the expense of helping hundreds of thousands of Mainers who buy private health insurance. The private insurance market in Maine is collapsing because of well-intended laws passed by the Maine Legislature, and it needs to be restored.

Q. The Medicaid reimbursement system called the Maine Claims Management System continues to ensnarl payments to health care providers through computer snafus that have now 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. Any voter who has followed this matter should not vote to re-elect John Baldacci. I would fire managers responsible for this debacle. I would demand full DHHS accountability. I would make payments to the providers a top priority. I would give the contractor a near-future date to fix the remaining problems entirely or be sued.

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. Yes. There is no other fiscally responsible choice. But, this step must be coupled with health insurance reforms to make health insurance affordable.

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 students and their teachers over the next four years. Should the state continue to fund the program?

A. I support laptops for students, but I think the current contract should be reviewed when it comes up for renewal.

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. I think it is patent nonsense. We have been pushing school consolidation for more than 50 years, and two studies prove it hasn’t saved a cent.

Q. Do you support the expansion of slot machine gambling that now exists only in Bangor? Explain your position.

A. Do I favor Bangor continuing to have a monopoly on slot machines? Personally, I am not ever inclined to extend gambling opportunities. But I have supported the right of Maine voters to decide on a racino in Washington County.

Q. Maine has a sex offender registry that was recently used to plan two murders in the state. Should the registry be continued as is, modified or eliminated?

A. I support the review to make sure that all the people we are listing on there should be included. The registry should also include more information about the nature of the offense. I do support continuing the remedy because I believe that, in matters of public safety, we must always err on the side of the innocent.

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. No. I am in favor of Maine law remaining exactly as it is now, regardless of whether the Supreme Court gives the states more power to limit a woman’s rights.

Q. Do you support either gay marriage or same-sex civil unions in Maine?

A. I do not favor same-sex marriage. Maine law already provides for many of the equal benefits provided by civil unions. Ultimately, Maine should provide all civil benefits to same-sex civil unions.

Q. Do you think creationism should be taught alongside evolution in the public schools?

A. No. Our religious views should not influence how we teach science in school, just as public officials should not influence how churches, synagogues, mosques and temples should teach religion.

Q. How would you propose funding the needed improvements to the state’s highways and bridges?

A. A good start would be voters sending a clear message to the politicians to cut out the partisan nonsense in Augusta. Funding for highways used to be off-limits to partisan politics, but not anymore.

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