AUGUSTA — The five candidates for governor shared their thoughts on the state of Maine agriculture Tuesday, offering proposals that included reduced regulation and lower taxes.

Farmers asked several questions about health care – why it’s so expensive and why state regulations don’t allow them to buy insurance from other states.

The forum sponsored by the Agricultural Council of Maine gave each candidate 45 minutes to address the crowd and answer questions. Each candidate was assigned a slot, so there was no overlap or debate.

Members of the council represent various agricultural interests, including dairy farmers, horticulturists, organic farmers, the Maine Farm Bureau and the Maine Farmland Trust. The forum was held at the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine.

Waterville Mayor Paul LePage, a Republican, said the Department of Environmental Protection should not regulate air, land and water in the state. That responsibility should rest with the Department of Agriculture, he said.

“The majority of loggers, farms and fishermen want to protect the resource,” he said.

If he is elected, LePage said, the industries of forestry, fishing and farming will be “locked to his hip.”

He said the state collects too many fees from businesses and he advocated for reducing the income tax to 5 percent until a worker earns $30,000 a year. He also said he would eliminate the estate tax and the tax on pensions.

When pressed by an audience member about how he could reduce taxes with a looming budget deficit, LePage said his income tax reduction would have to wait until his second term.

Democrat Libby Mitchell said that the state must market its products, and that she would appoint commissioners who understand the value of working together.

She said she worked with dairy farmers as Senate president to build a price support system, and worked to ensure that there was money in a bond package so the state could buy an Aroostook County railroad to keep commerce moving.

She said regulations must be timely and predictable, and the state should eliminate redundancy.

She said she would create an office of business advocates who would work with those who want to open new businesses.

A couple of the farmers asked Mitchell why the state doesn’t allow them to buy health insurance out of state. She said Maine law protects consumers from buying insurance that could be dropped if they get sick or have a pre-existing condition.

But she said that with federal health reform — which prohibits insurance companies from denying coverage for pre-existing conditions — the across-the-border restriction is no longer necessary. Mitchell said it will likely be dropped when the Legislature reconvenes in January.

Independent Eliot Cutler said the high cost of electricity, energy and health care create a “wall of costs” in Maine.

“Then there is a wall of no,” he said. “It’s a wall that keeps investment out of the state of Maine.”

He said that on his first day as governor, he would create an office to review and repeal unnecessary state laws. He joked that the director of that office would be called “the grim repealer.”

He also repeated the call to abolish the Board of Environmental Protection — a citizen board that reviews and implements state environmental laws.

He said most states got rid of similar boards years ago and the Department of Environmental Protection can handle the work.

Independent Kevin Scott said he wants to get more Maine food into schools, and he continued to advocate for a 32-hour workweek for state employees.

“We know for a fact that 40 hours a week is costing us a lot of money every year,” he said.

Independent Shawn Moody said that when he was growing up in Gorham, there were 20 dairy farms. Today there are three.

He said he sees no difference between farmers and other small businesses in Maine that need help. The state must reduce the cost of energy, he said, which could be accomplished by putting existing dams back into service.

“What are we doing taking dams out?” he said. “That’s alarming to me.”

 

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