Saturday, December 7, 2013
BATH - The four Democrats running for governor talked about roads, education and taxes Tuesday at a forum designed to help Sagadahoc County Democrats choose a nominee on June 8.
The candidates fielded questions from moderator Sen. Seth Goodall, D-Richmond, just one day after another Democrat dropped out of the race while facing questions about fundraising tactics used by his campaign staffers.
John Richardson wasn't mentioned during the forum itself, but before it began, a Richardson supporter chastised candidate Rosa Scarcelli for calling for an independent investigation. Earlier in the day, the ethics commission sent the matter to the Attorney General's Office for a possible review.
The four remaining Democrats -- Scarcelli, Steve Rowe, Patrick McGowan and Senate President Elizabeth Mitchell -- shared their visions for moving the state forward.
Although Rowe and McGowan said they don't think the next state budget will be as dire as predicted, they added that it may be necessary to look at raising taxes on out-of-staters to bring in more revenue.
State budget cuts often mean property tax increases in cities and towns, said McGowan.
"It's important to never raise your hand and say 'no new taxes' on the state level," he said. "When you do, that's saying it's OK to raise taxes on the backs of Maine people locally."
Rowe said he would look for "innovative ways to raise revenues," but did not elaborate.
"We will probably have to raise some revenues," he said.
To cut costs, Scarcelli said, the teachers' union and state employees should be covered under one health insurance plan and class sizes should be increased so they are closer to the national average. She also recommended special education changes.
"We need one, standard uniform code for every person to qualify for special education," she said. "That will save some money."
Mitchell said dealing with yet another state budget crisis will require growing the economy to raise per capita income and working together.
About 80 people gathered at UCC church in Bath for the event.
The winner will face one of seven Republicans in November, along with at least two unenrolled candidates -- Eliot Cutler and Shawn Moody -- who have already qualified for the ballot.
Some of the Democrats said the state needs to look beyond the gas tax to catch up on needed roadwork.
Scarcelli said the Maine Turnpike Authority might hold the answer.
"We can fix all of Maine roads today," Scarcelli said. "If we tolled from Augusta to Bangor we could take care of every inch of state roads in Maine."
McGowan said there are other options as well.
"Public transportation and rail will need to be part of our future," he said.
On the issue of state regulations, Mitchell said she's heard from some businesses who have trouble locating in downtown buildings because of strict codes. In particular, she mentioned the Fire Marshal's Office.
"We do need some parameters on the regulators," she said.
Rowe said businesses complain to him about other issues.
"The biggest things I hear are access to capital, health care and energy costs," he said.
McGowan said he feels the economy is growing and that state revenues may rebound better than most people think.
"I'm not sold on the doom and gloom in Maine," he said.
MaineToday Media State House Reporter Susan Cover can be contacted at 620-7015 or at: firstname.lastname@example.org