WATERVILLE — Increase the number of college graduates, make health care more affordable and reduce tax rates on income and capital gains.

Those are the keys to reviving Maine’s economy, Libby Mitchell, Maine’s Senate president and Democratic gubernatorial nominee, said during a meeting Monday with the Waterville Rotary Club.

Mitchell, who spoke for about 20 minutes before taking questions from the audience, told about 30 people that she can “bring people together” to address the state’s problems.

“I am running to create opportunity not only for (my children) but for future generations, and also to make sure that we keep jobs for all of us; and for those people who are afraid of losing them, to bring a sense of security to the jobs they do have,” she said.

The Waterville Rotary Club will host lunch meetings with three of the five gubernatorial candidates. Republican nominee and Waterville Mayor Paul LePage is scheduled Aug. 23; independent candidate Eliot Cutler of Cape Elizabeth is expected Aug. 30.

Also running are independents Shawn Moody of Gorham and Kevin Scott of Andover.

Mitchell’s speech on Monday focused largely on Maine’s economy. She reiterated her support for recommendations of “Making Maine Work,” a report drafted by the Maine State Chamber of Commerce and the Maine Development Foundation.

“We know we need 40,000 more people with education beyond high school in the next 10 years,” Mitchell said, referring to the report. “I am told that there are 4,000 qualified young Maine people, or old Maine people, that are waiting to get into the community colleges. They offer programs that fit the needs of the business community and, if we can get these people through the doors, we can make sure that they are ready for the workplace.”

But accommodating more students costs money, Mitchell said. So she suggested one possibility for additional funding: renegotiating the state liquor contract.

The state privatized its wholesale liquor business in 2004, selecting a Massachusetts company to run it and subcontracting with Pine State Trading Co. of Augusta for warehousing and delivery in a 10-year, $125 million contract.

“Maybe it’s time for us to redo that contract a little early, take the monies from that and put it into a trust fund and use that money for higher education to train our young people and older people for the Maine work force,” she said.

Acknowledging that health care costs are too high for many small businesses, Mitchell said she would work to increase wellness programs.

“There’s not a person in this room that does not know that prevention is a lot cheaper than treating sickness,” she said. “So why not do what we know is right and what is better for people? And the work force is more productive anyway.”

During the question-and-answer period, Mitchell indicated she would revisit the idea of reducing Maine’s income tax rates. Lawmakers enacted such a change in 2009, but it was repealed by voters in June.

The law reduced the income tax rate for most Mainers from 8.5 percent to 6.5 percent. The reduced revenue would have been covered by increasing the meals and lodging tax from 7 percent to 8.5 percent and expanding the state’s 5 percent sales tax.

“We must go back to lowering the income tax,” she said.

Doug Carnrick of Winslow, who posed the income tax question, said Mitchell answered honestly.

“Something needs to be done,” he said, “so at least she said she would still look to reduce it.”

 

MaineToday Media State House Reporter Rebekah Metzler can be contacted at 620-7016 or at: rmetzler@mainetoday.com