SOUTH PORTLAND — Incumbent Democratic state Sen. Lawrence Bliss is seeking re-election in District 7 against Republican challenger Joseph Palmieri, a small business owner and sports radio host.

District 7 includes South Portland, Cape Elizabeth and the portion of Scarborough east of Route 1 and the Scarborough Marsh.

Both candidates said they believe the state needs to streamline permitting and regulatory processes to lure new businesses to the state.

But Bliss said more businesses would come to Maine if the state did a better job of investing in roads, bridges and education. Palmieri said the state should consider more tax incentives for new businesses, reducing utility costs by purchasing power from the Canadian grid and offering a-la-carte insurance policies.

Bliss said he supports gay marriage, while Palmieri said he believes the state should get out of the marriage business and offer domestic partnership licenses to gay and straight couples alike.

Bliss said he is open to increasing and expanding the sales tax, while Palmieri is not.

Lawrence Bliss

Bliss, 63, lives on Cottage Road with his three children and partner, Noland McCoy, a consultant for low-income housing. Bliss worked at the University of Southern Maine as the director of career services for 20 years before being laid off. He is now a full-time legislator.

Bliss is finishing his first term in the state Senate, where he chaired the Judiciary Committee and sat on the Taxation and Ethics Committee. He also served four terms as a state representative.

Bliss said he is seeking re-election, among other reasons, to pass tax reform. He supported the Legislature’s last reform package, which would have lowered the income tax for top earners and expand items covered by the sales tax.

But that reform package was repealed by voters.

Bliss said he doesn’t believe there are many more opportunities to consolidate state government. He would offer tax relief to residents by expanding sales taxes on tourism related items. He also supports a local-option sales tax, provided it’s implemented on a regional, not municipal, level.

He said the state needs to do a better job investing in infrastructure and education, but finding funding will not be easy. He suggested adding one cent to the sales tax, with a sunset provision.

“My guess is most people in Maine would be willing to accept a one-cent sales tax increase if they knew it would be for one year or two years,” he said.

The state should also consider increasing the real estate transfer tax, Bliss said, and investigate whether the real estate industry’s fears about adverse impact on the housing market are justified.

“We have to put a lot of ideas on the table and see what fits,” he said.

Bliss said he supports efforts to increase wind farms, but thinks the state should expand its renewable energy portfolio by including tidal and geothermal energy.

The state also needs to address air pollution that comes in from other states, he said, and address other environmental issues, like protecting the oceans, beaches and marshes.

Joseph Palmieri

Palmieri, 53, lives on Jennies Court with his two grown children and wife, Cheryl, a Portland public school teacher. He has owned Chicago Dogs in Scarborough for 2 1/2 years and is a co-host of a morning sports radio show on WJAB.

Palmieri said the state needs to attract new businesses by offering tax incentives and lower utility and insurance costs. He said electrical rates could be cut by 30 percent by expanding distribution of natural gas, with pipelines along Interstate 95, and purchasing electricity from the Canadian power grid.

Insurance costs could be lowered, he said, through an a-la-carte approach that offer a base policy for wellness checks and physicals, while more coverage could be added on.

“Why is it that a nun working in a Catholic school that offers insurance needs a policy that requires prenatal care?” he asked. “This is how absurd the situation is in this state.”

Palmieri said the state’s budget problems could be solved by increasing the number of taxpayers. He did not support the last reform package, because expanding the sales tax, he said, mostly affects low-income families.

Instead, he supports implementation of a one-day, tax holiday to spur consumer spending, whether its “a house, a car or a hamburger.” Municipalities would experience new annual revenue, he said, from subsequent excise taxes from automobiles and local businesses would benefit from ongoing home-improvement projects.

“That’s not just a one-year thing,” he said.

Although he doesn’t support a local-option sales tax, Palmieri said he would favor allowing municipalities to keep a penny of the existing sales tax.

To reduce state spending, Palmieri advocates a residency requirement to receive welfare benefits and instituting a lifetime cap on those benefits.

He would also reduce the size of the Legislature by “at least 15 percent” and institute a cap on the amount of money a school district could spend on administration.

“We can’t continue on this path,” he said. “Clearly, the traditional ways of doing business aren’t working.”

Randy Billings can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or [email protected]

Sidebar Elements

Incumbent Democratic state Sen. Lawrence Bliss, who lives on Cottage Road in South Portland, is seeking re-election in District 7, which includes South Portland, Cape Elizabeth and part of Scarborough.

Republican Joseph Palmieri, who owns Chicago Dogs in Scarborough and co-hosts a morning sports show on WJAB radio, is running for the Senate District 7 seat, which represents South Portland, Cape Elizabeth and part of Scarborough.

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