April 16, 2010

How would the candidates balance the budget?

By Susan M. Cover scover@mainetoday.com
State House Bureau

Question: “As governor, you’re almost certain to inherit a significant budget gap. What are the top three ways you would tackle the deficit?

click image to enlarge

Staff photo illustration by Sharon Wood

Steve Abbott, Republican
We first need to ensure we’re not throwing good money after bad. We do  that by auditing all state programs and setting performance benchmarks  to find out which ones are working. Those that aren’t should be restructured or eliminated. We also have too many state workers doing jobs that should be done in  the private sector. A good rule is, if you can find it in the Yellow  Pages, then chances are, the state shouldn’t be doing it. We also need  to bring our overly generous welfare system in line with federal  benefits.

Bill Beardsley, Republican
A portion of the shortfall can be addressed by across-the-board reductions in DHHS and Education. The greatest savings would come in DHHS expenditures by bringing Maine’s eligibility standards in line with national averages in residency requirements, income thresholds and duration of eligibility. Savings are achievable by bringing our student-teacher ratio more in line with other rural states that have proven results with fewer teachers. This can be achieved through attrition. State planning, economic development, education, the executive branch, health, energy and other departments can be reduced with the essential services

Eliot Cutler, independent

  • Prioritize all programs, tax breaks ($3.4 billion dwarfs operating budget), government agencies. Eliminate those we don’t need or don’t work (e.g., motor vehicle inspections).
  • Reduce scope of Medicaid services.
  • Consider a small gasoline tax increase for Highway Fund to fix roads and bridges.
  • Get pupil-teacher ratio up to average of rural states that outperform Maine (saves $400 million).
  • Long term: Increase economic activity and revenues by lowering costs of electricity, health care and government services.
  • Smaller Legislature — annual sessions, annual budget, capital budget.
  • Streamline DHHS services — 7,000 contractors is too many.

Matt Jacobson, Republican
Lower personal and corporate income tax rates and eliminate the death tax on Maine residents. This will attract and jobs and people to Maine; more people living and working here will result in greater prosperity and smaller government shortfalls. End Dirigo Health and simultaneously reduce the costly mandates that make Maine’s health insurance so expensive. Doing so will quickly drop premiums, and thousands will be able to leave Medicaid and enroll in private insurance that employers and employees can finally afford. Combine the resources of the Maine Turnpike Authority, MDOT, and county and town road departments to achieve greater efficiency.

Paul LePage, Republican
My initial action would be to find the most qualified commissioners for Education and DHHS. Then we would go about establishing cost effective methods of delivering these services throughout Maine. We need to reform our delivery systems while improving the quality of education and welfare. These two departments account for approximately 80 percent of the state budget. Further, Dirigo is a failed program and needs to be made cost effective or eliminated.

Patrick McGowan, Democrat
None of my proposals will increase taxes on the people of Maine. I’ll look at $2.5 billion worth of exemptions. I’ll propose and support economic development that will help increase new forms of energy. When we look at revenue, Maine must start saying “yes” to new growth to allow for increased revenue without raising taxes. And I will continue to find ways for state government to operate more efficiently. I know the budget and how to grow our economy from my small-business experience. I also know the tax burden from owning small businesses and working for Maine people.

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