BATH – Four candidates running for governor offered their ideas for cutting state government costs Wednesday in front of a jam-packed room of voters and supporters.

The two-hour forum at Bath City Hall sponsored by The Coastal Journal and the Times-Record also gave the candidates a chance to talk about the state budget, taxes, gay marriage and casinos. The fifth candidate in the race, Waterville Mayor Paul LePage, a Republican, did not attend the forum because of a previously scheduled event in Presque Isle, said Gina Hamilton of The Coastal Journal, which is owned by MaineToday Media.

When it comes to cutting government, Independent Eliot Cutler said he would set up a commission that would recommend ways to cut spending and require the Legislature to take an up or down vote.

“We need to structurally change state government,” Cutler said. “It’s costing us too much in many cases for things we don’t want or need.”

Democrat Libby Mitchell said the state can reduce health care costs by rewarding people for preventing illness rather than paying for them after they get sick.

“We need to look at how we deliver health care in Maine,” she said.

Independent Shawn Moody said he would start a “surplus sharing” program that would give state employees an incentive to save money.

“We’ve got to make it cool to save again,” he said.

And independent Kevin Scott said he would let state workers choose to work a 32-hour week.

“That is such a powerful tool,” he said.

The candidates, who recently began a long series of forums and debates leading up to the Nov. 2 election, had to stand or strain their voices to be heard by the crowd in the balcony. The crowd occasionally clapped if they liked an answer and laughed at a few jokes.

Cutler challenged Mitchell, the Senate president, about whether the current state budget is actually balanced.

He said he doesn’t think furlough days for state workers, across-the-board cuts and delayed payments from one fiscal year to the next represent a balanced budget.

“I think that budget is a fiction,” he said. “It’s like paying off a credit card with another credit card.”

Mitchell said she didn’t think it was a good idea to lay off state workers during a recession, so furlough days had to be an option.

“The furlough days kept men and women working and kept food on people’s tables,” she said.

Scott also criticized the state for cutting funding for the Homestead Exemption, which rewards Mainers who own their homes.

“That’s a big hit and a big cost to local government,” he said.

On the issue of gay marriage, Moody said he would leave it up to the voters to decide.

“The precedent has been set in Maine,” he said. “The voters want to decide.”

Scott said he would not reveal his personal belief on the issue, but stood up to demonstrate that he stands with the people who voted last year to repeal the state’s gay marriage law.

He said he would also stand up for gay-marriage supporters if the vote had gone the other way.

Mitchell and Cutler expressed strong support for gay marriage.

“I voted for the bill,” Mitchell said. “I helped get it out of the Maine Senate without a referendum on it. Intolerance to gays is not acceptable to me.”

Cutler said he would lead on the issue if elected governor.

“I don’t believe this is a matter of choice,” Cutler said. “This is a matter of equal protection under the law.”

To start the forum, Moody thanked Mitchell for refusing to participate in forums sponsored by other groups that didn’t invite all of the candidates. Moody and Scott, the least known of the field of five, have sometimes been left off invitations by groups hoping to invite only frontrunners.

“Sen. Mitchell took a bold move today,” he said, drawing applause from the crowd.

On the issue of casinos, Mitchell and Cutler said they oppose them.

Moody said if voters approved a new casino, he would not veto it.

Scott said he would approve a casino if money went to education and if it gave Indian tribes in Maine a chance to improve their economic situation.

MaineToday Media State House Reporter Susan Cover can be contacted at 620-7015 or at:

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