March 13, 2010

Economy, taxes at top of agenda

NOEL K

— By . GALLAGHER

John Cushing senate 5.

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Barry Hobbins-SENATE 5-no info (Noel G.)

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Staff Writer

Republican John Cushing is challenging incumbent Barry Hobbins for the seat in Senate District 5, which includes Buxton, Dayton, Old Orchard Beach, Saco and part of Biddeford.

Both candidates said the key issues in this race revolve around the economy and taxes.

''We need a more common-sense approach to how we take in and spend money in Augusta,'' said Cushing, the director of marketing for a South Portland medical products company.

Cushing also said health care is a priority. He described the state's Dirigo Health program as a ''failed experiment'' and said he would instead work to increase competition among health plans, such as allowing people to purchase health insurance from out of state.

''It should be no more difficult to get health insurance as it is to buy auto insurance,'' he said.

Hobbins, a longtime legislator, was first elected to the Maine House at age 21. Since then, he has served six terms in the House and is serving his third term as state senator.

''I can hit the ground running,'' Hobbins said. ''I think I have a unique blend of public policy experience, legal experience and business experience.''

That will help in particular this session, he said, given the current economic crisis and the state's budget problems. In the near term, Hobbins said providing heating cost assistance this winter will be a top priority.

''There needs to be immediate coordination of local, county, state and, hopefully, federal efforts,'' Hobbins said. ''We have to ensure a safety net to get us through the winter.''

At the same time, he said, long-term decisions about energy will be needed. Hobbins, who serves on the Utilities and Energy committee, said he supports alternative energy programs, such as tidal and wind energy.

''We are poised to make very aggressive progress in this field. This could be a real boon for our infrastructure,'' he said.

To meet tight budget needs, Hobbins said he would support further consolidation efforts, similar to the recent school consolidation effort.

''I'm very open to looking at other areas that could be consolidated,'' he said, saying all departments should be considered.

''We are not in an economic standpoint to raise taxes. That would be a last resort,'' Hobbins said. Instead, he would look to make spending cuts, consider public-private partnerships, and consolidation of administrative duties between departments.

Cushing said he thought budget problems should be addressed by controlling spending.

''If we just held the line and contained spending where it is now for a few cycles, that would be a boon in and of itself,'' he said.

Cushing said he also supports tax cuts to stimulate job growth, and lowering property taxes.

Staff Writer Noel K. Gallagher can be contacted at 791-6387 or at:

ngallagher@pressherald.com

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