SEN. ELOISE VITELLI speaks at a candidate forum in Richmond last week.

SEN. ELOISE VITELLI speaks at a candidate forum in Richmond last week.

RICHMOND

Does Maine reach prosperity by investing or cutting?

That was the question posed at a candidates forum at the Enterprise Grange last week. Outgoing Rep. Seth Berry asked each candidate to answer and be specific about what they would cut or invest in.

Answering one by one were the seven candidates for three 2014 election districts encompassing all or part of Richmond:

— House District 53: Peter S. Kent (D-Woolwich) and Jeffrey K. Pierce (R-Dresden); Dresden, Arrowsic, Georgetown, Phippsburg, Woolwich and part of Richmond.

— House District 55: Alice D. Elliott (D-Richmond) and Brian D. Hobart (R-Bowdoinham); Bowdoin, Bowdoinham and part of Richmond.

— Senate District 23: Eloise Vitelli, (D-Arrowsic), Alice Knapp, (G–Richmond), and Linda Baker, (R- Topsham); Sagadahoc County and Dresden.

“I think one thing that people don’t realize is that the total value of tax exemptions that the state doles out is equal to the combined sales and income taxes taken in, so one of the things I would cut is tax exemptions,” Senate District 23 candidate and Independent Alice Knapp said.

Knapp said the state absolutely needs to cut the social service budget. As a former health insurance regulator, “I’m passionate about universal health care,” which Maine still doesn’t have. Expanding MaineCare under Obama Care “still leave 10 percent of the population under the bus.” Every time the state expands MaineCare, “the budget goes BOOM!” she said, as the state throws money at a system that is wildly expensive and doesn’t get to everybody.

The state must also invest in lifelong education and she said, “I’m glad to hear that Maine is looking at Oregon’s Pay it Forward program,” because investing in the people of Maine is the best business strategy.

House District 55 Republican candidate Brian Hobart said that with small businesses in Maine are desperate for skilled workers right now and agreed education is key. “But the problem is young people are not educating themselves for the jobs that are available — machinists, truck drivers, heavy equipment operators — these are good jobs that pay good wages but there’s a shortage and that’s what we need, to encourage the young people to educate themselves in the career fields that are available.”

Jeffrey Pierce, running for House District 53 as the Republican candidate, said legislators must use both tools — cut and invest. A construction company owner, he pointed out that shop class has been removed from schools, and “Not all of us are going to go to college. Some of us are going to go on to trades.” When will kids be taught to fend for themselves and to be productive he asked, “instead of sitting them down in front of the TV and saying everybody’s going to go to college. Have any of you ever paid for a plumber?”

Pierce also argued that the regional school system budgets

“are destroying communities… We need to bring back community-based management and get out programs that actually work and teach kids something; teaches kids personal responsibility.”

The state Department of Health and Human Services “is out of control,” Pierce argued, calling it “a great big conglomerate of waste.” He said there is nothing wrong with making people ages 18 to 50 who want food stamps volunteer 20 hours and perhaps they may find someone looking to hire and land a job.

“How do you get off generational welfare if you don’t go out and look for a job and try to learn how to work?” Pierce said. “You can’t sit home and play video games. So we have to really start looking at this stuff.”

He also spoke against funding benefits for illegal immigrants, telling audience members, “I’ve seen that multiculturalism does not work. You come here, learn our ways and don’t ask for the hard working tax dollars that you guys earn.”

It needs to be a balanced approach to investing and cutting and Maine needs “to give people a way off welfare,” Pierce said.

“We cannot cut our way to prosperity,” said Peter Kent, the Democratic challenger to the House District 53 seat, and who has represented District 65 since 2008. Eliminating DHHS and illegal aliens will not make Maine prosperous, he said.

“We need a vision,” Kent stressed, which he has found lacking in his six years in the Legislature as the focus changes with the shifts in the administration. “We need a vision concerning education; we need a vision concerning our economy — where we want it to go. We don’t need the division of thinking we can cut our way out of this.” To cut bits of the budget here and there is not an investment in Maine, he said, adding, “if we could just sit down and maybe spend two years or four years working on where we want to go — and all sides of the political spectrum sign on to that — and then begin the long process of legislating towards it.

Eloise Vitelli, the Democratic Senate District 23 candidate, said the current administration “gave tax breaks to people who do not need tax breaks,” which if cut could eliminate some unfairness in the system and provide additional resources that can be invested.

Vitelli highlighted the need to invest in the people of Maine and “I will say again that investing in early education is a good place to start.” She sponsored a Pre-K bill passed into law that provides school systems with resources to establish Pre-K programs. During hearings on that bill “we heard from criminal justice folks, from the sheriff ’s department, that a dollar invested in early education saves you $16 down the road.”

The debate about DHHS is a complicated one, but Vitelli argued the department does much more than serve people on welfare and who are low income. The department also helps serve our elderly and helps prevent child and elder abuse. There are essential services within the department that need to be preserved which the state must invest in.

Small businesses also need investment and legislators must make sure the regulations they put in place to protect communities and ensure a level playing field, are scaled in a way that fits the size of the businesses in Maine, Vitelli said. Eighty percent of those businesses have 20 or fewer employees.

Vitelli also called for investment in infrastructure which has been neglected. Not just roads, “but I would also add that we need to invest in the Internet so that we all have equal access to broadband.”

Linda Baker, the Republican Senate District 23 candidate, has been in the classroom teaching for 31 years and said the Internet would facilitate many more educational opportunities for the people of Maine, K-12 and post-secondary. She said she believes in college, but it is not for everybody and expressed frustration that students who may do wonderful in the work field or other avenues of post secondary education or trades are pushed to attend college rather than utilize their gifts.

In the state of Maine, “more than 50 percent of high school drop outs are gifted students,” Baker added. “We’re missing the mark.”

Alice Elliott, the Democratic candidate for District 55 said the state must look care- fully at waste and fraud and make strategic cuts, as well as looking for ways to make every area more efficient. An employee of Colby College who works to encourage civil involvement, Elliott recalled a project where faculty there worked with students to do an energy audit for Waterville which saved the town $80,000 over three years.

Elliott also spoke in favor of investing in early education, which has a short term payoff as students who attend Pre- K and Head Start require less services in school and are better prepared. She also is a proponent of investing in small businesses to help them grow, as well as investing in research and development; looking at more efficient ways to heat and cool homes to drive down energy costs as winters grown colder and summers more hot — technologies the state can then sell.

Broadband is very important and many people could work from home if they had it, Elliott said. She pointed to Rockland that through collaboration was able to bring fiber optics technology to all businesses in Rockland, and “we should be doing that statewide. It’s going to pay off. We just need some bigger organization to help organize it and push it forward.”

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