On Tuesday, June 12, Maine Democrats will flock to the polls to choose their candidates for the Democratic nomination for governor. This year Maine will be the first state in the country to use the ranked-choice voting system, which will allow voters to rank their candidates in order of preference. For Democrats, this finally allows them to confidently pick their first-choice candidate without fear of enabling their least favorite candidate to win with a plurality. Surprisingly, we haven’t seen any lawns with multiple candidate signs ranked in order of preference.
We considered interviewing all of the candidates to gather quotes and biographical backgrounds, but we decided that this information is widely available in other news outlets. But what has been missing in other news stories about the primary races is a truly comprehensive list of where the candidates stand on concrete policies. Below is our attempt to get some straight answers from the candidates.
For this story we submitted questionnaires to all of the candidates, sifted through news articles, looked at voting records, viewed debates and read through the websites of Janet Mills, Adam Cote, Mark Eves, Betsy Sweet, Mark Dion and Diane Russell. Unfortunately, we could not gather enough information about former Biddeford Mayor Donna Dion’s positions and she did not return a questionnaire, so we did not include her in this profile.
Reversing the LePage Tax Cuts?
In the past several years, the LePage administration and now the Trump administration have been very kind to higher-income earners. In 2011, the governor signed a $400 million tax cut, largely skewed to benefit the wealthiest income earners, which he paid for by cutting tax revenue sharing to municipalities, causing property taxes to rise. Since then, the Legislature has raised the sales taxes and passed another $135.4 million income tax cuts. And this past December, Congress passed its monumental federal tax cut.
All of this has come at a time when the state and local governments struggle to fund schools and other essential services without dramatically raising more regressive property taxes. Currently, the middle 20 percent of Maine income earners, or households earning between $33,000 and $52,000 a year, pay 9.4 percent of their incomes to state and local taxes, while those in the top 1 percent earning over $362,000 a year pay 7.5 percent, according to the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy.
But while all of the Democrats in the primary say they want to expand the role of state government, not all of them say unconditionally that they are willing to raise taxes to get the revenue to pay for programs and services. In interviews in the Bangor Daily News, Betsy Sweet was the only candidate to say definitively that she would reverse the LePage tax cuts. She said she would also implement the 3-percent surtax on households over $200,000 to fund education, which was passed by the voters in 2016, but was repealed by the Legislature last year. She said she would also expand property-tax relief programs, eliminate tax business exemptions in the tourism and entertainment industry, and “drastically cut the corporate welfare that is handed out with no accountability.”
Mark Eves told The Free Press that he would raise more revenue to fund schools, roads and health care by broadening the sales tax base, eliminating tax breaks to companies that don’t create good-paying jobs and implementing the 3-percent surcharge on annual incomes over $200,000.
Mark Dion says he would like to “de-couple” the funding of schools from property taxes and find way to fund education solely at the state level. He told the BDN that he would “consider all existing taxes, including sales, income and business taxes,” to raise revenue for property tax relief and other programs. Diane Russell says she would pass a bill that would close a tax loophole that allows businesses to stash their cash in offshore tax havens and put it toward alleviating hunger.
Janet Mills acknowledged that LePage’s tax cuts have shifted the tax burden to local property taxes and she supports fully restoring revenue sharing, funding 55 percent of the state’s share of education costs and expanding property-tax relief programs. But she did not say whether she would raise taxes. Adam Cote told the BDN he would focus on investments in clean energy, infrastructure and workforce training as well as tax breaks to spur economic growth and grow state revenues.
Sweet, Eves, Dion and Russell told the BDN that they all support November’s Universal Home Care referendum, which supporters say would provide home care for 30,000 seniors and people with disabilities who require daily living supports in order to stay in their homes. The program would be paid for by a 1.9-percent tax on employee salaries and wages over $127,000 a year, which supporters describe as “closing a tax loophole” because once people earn in excess of that amount, they stop paying Social Security tax on those earnings. Mills told the BDN that she “shares the goals” of the referendum, but was still studying the details. Cote said he supported “the intent” of the home care initiative, but still had questions about it. He told the BDN that he would prefer to pay for programs through economic growth, the existing budget and bonding rather than raising taxes.
Climate Change & the Environment
Adam Cote has by far the most detailed renewable energy policy plan. Cote has set a goal of becoming a 100-percent renewable energy state in the next 10 years. If elected, he says he will immediately submit a bill to preserve incentives for installing solar power, which Gov. LePage and Republicans have blocked from passing. Cote’s plan also calls for investments in offshore floating wind technology and installing a 5-gigawatt wind farm in the Gulf of Maine with the power of five nuclear power plants by 2030. Cote’s plan also calls for the creation of the country’s first “smart grid,” which would link all of the smart meters in the state to local renewable energy as well as battery storage infrastructure to support them. Cote said he would also make more investments in energy efficiency and promote tidal power, biomass and wood-based biofuels.
Betsy Sweet says she would join the US Climate Alliance, a coalition of states pledging to meet the carbon reduction goals of the Paris Climate Accord, which President Trump pulled the US out of last year. Sweet says she will not allow any state money to go toward subsidizing fossil-fuel pipelines, refineries or LNG facilities. Like Cote, Sweet has set a goal for the state to become 100-percent energy independent by 2030 through investments in solar, wind, hydro, geothermal and tidal energy sources. In addition, Sweet says she would create a statewide network of walking and cycling trails from Kittery to Madawaska. Sweet says she would also support more investments in mass transit and the Land for Maine’s Future program.
Russell says she would also join the US Climate Alliance and would provide more funding for home weatherization and energy efficiency. She supports a feed-in tariff policy that would actually require utilities to pay people with rooftop solar for the power they produce and increasing the state’s Renewable Portfolio Standard to require that more of the state’s electricity come from renewable energy.
Mills said she would enact a net-metering policy that provides better incentives for rooftop solar users and would increase the number of users allowed on a community solar farm. Mills said she would also encourage more development of offshore wind, solar farms and geothermal energy “by lifting LePage-era restrictions and providing targeted subsidies.” Mills has a goal to weatherize 100 percent of the homes in Maine. She said she would also encourage more research into development into renewable energy technologies at the University of Maine.
Mark Eves said he would incentivize solar with a feed-in tariff policy, raise the cap on community solar participants, re-establish the state solar rebate program and make investments in offshore wind. Eves says he opposes subsidizing the expansion of a natural gas pipeline into New England and would join the U.S. Climate Alliance. He said he would also invest in passenger rail, home weatherization and electric vehicle charging infrastructure. Eves has also set a goal to add an additional 430,000 acres to the Land for Maine’s Future program, with the goal of reaching one million acres of land in conservation.
Mark Dion also has a record of supporting renewable energy and wind as a member of the Energy, Utilities and Technology Committee. Last year, he sponsored a bill to renew the Public Utilities Commission’s authority to charge ratepayers to subsidize natural gas pipelines for another two years. Dion says he would invest in passenger rail, create new subsidized loan programs to insulate aging houses and apartments, build a “charging trail” across the state for electric vehicles and encourage the state to purchase zero-emission vehicles. Dion says he would also put limits on the amount of water that companies can extract from the ground for export and would tax commercial water extraction, with the revenue going to the state and local governments. Dion also supports more bonding for Land for Maine’s Future and creating a statewide land-use plan to prepare coastal communities for the effects of climate change.
Funding Schools, Pre-K & Free College Tuition
Back in February, the candidates were asked at a debate if they supported the Question 2 referendum, which would have increased taxes on the 2 percent of household incomes According to the Bangor Daily News, Mills said she did not support the surtax, but she says that she will insist that the Legislature fully meet the state’s obligation to fund education at 55 percent. Cote said he voted for the surtax, but did not say whether he would implement it. Eves, Dion, Russell and Sweet say they would implement the tax if elected.
On his website, Adam Cote says the state needs to fund 55 percent of the cost of education, but has not explained how he would pay for it. He says he also would set a goal of “leading the country on quality universal pre-kindergarten opportunities.” Cote says he would call for $75 to $100 million in bonds to capitalize the “Maine Human Capital Investment Fund,” which would provide low-interest loans and grants to small businesses, trade organizations, and individuals to pay for job training.
Mills says she would support increasing teachers’ starting pay to $40,000 per year and says that high-stakes testing is a “poor method of evaluating both teachers and students.” She says she will adopt a framework “that examines a wider range of measures to examine performance, including access to arts, foreign languages, and vocational education, as well as college and career preparation.”
In addition to funding schools at 55 percent, Dion says he supports more funding for pre-K programs. He says he would also review standardized testing and accountability requirements and eliminate those that are “not producing educational benefits for students.” He says he would support a plan to provide free tuition throughout the Maine Community College system, and would expand apprentice programs in construction trades and other skilled professions. Dion says he also would provide another $58 million to the University of Maine System.
As Speaker of the House, Eves previously submitted a bill to boost base teacher pay from $30,000 per year to $40,000 per year, but LePage vetoed it. He says he will re-introduce that bill as governor and fully fund universal pre-K for all school districts. Eves says he will also put a moratorium on any new mandates and assess existing mandates, such as high-stakes testing and standards, to determine if they are working. He supports allowing all Maine students to attend a community college or Maine public university tuition-free and would provide assistance to help stranded learners complete credential or degree programs. Eves said he would create a statewide assessment to determine what the state’s workforce needs are in terms of skills and job training and align vocational, community college and four-year degree programs with those demands.
Betsy Sweet says she would also submit a bill to boost starting teacher salaries up to $40,000 per year, cut back on standardized testing and make pre-K available to every 3- and 4-year-old in Maine. She says she would provide two years of free college or university tuition in exchange for one year of public service and put more focus on technical and skills-based education.
Hunger, Family Leave, Wages & Housing
In the past eight years, rates of hunger in Maine have skyrocketed, in large part due to Gov. Paul LePage’s policies to restrict access to food and housing assistance for the most impoverished Mainers. If elected, Mark Eves says he will work to repeal those policies, including the 60-month limit on receiving Temporary Assistance for Needy Families benefits. Eves said he would also enhance programs that help low-income parents go to school while receiving TANF.
Both Eves and Mills oppose efforts to mandate work requirements for Medicaid recipients and drug testing people receiving welfare. Mills said she would repeal the asset test required for public assistance because she says it penalizes families for saving money. She says she would also allow low-income people living in areas with high unemployment to be exempt from SNAP work requirements.
Russell said she would “strategically invest in areas that will help lift people out of poverty” and address the “cliff” where a family loses nearly all of their benefits for earning a dollar over the income limits for assistance. Cote notes on his website that one in five Maine children is “food insecure” and says fixing that will be one of his top priorities, but did not elaborate on how he would do that.
Sweet, Eves and Russell all support moving toward a $15-an-hour minimum wage. Mills is the only candidate we found who has opposed increasing the minimum wage in the past. As a state representative in 2006, she voted against a bill to gradually increase the minimum wage to $7 per hour. But Mills says she would oppose any attempt to delay, repeal, or weaken the current minimum-wage law.
Mills, Sweet, Eves and Russell say they also support creating a universal paid family leave policy for the state. Dion says that affordable child care for all families is a top priority. Eves has the most detailed affordable housing plan. He said he would release the $15 million senior housing bond, which LePage has been holding hostage for years, and pass another $50 million bond to create energy-efficient housing for low-income elderly Mainers.
All of these candidates support expanding Medicaid to 70,000 low-income Mainers. Sweet, Eves, Mills and Russell support a single-payer health care plan for the state, but the devil’s in the details. Under Eves’ plan people who don’t receive health care from an employer would be allowed to use federal subsidies to purchase Medicaid care coverage on the health care exchange. Mills said the key issue is to create a large enough insurance pool to make a single-payer system cost-effective and would like to explore partering with Vermont and New Hampshire to set up such a system.
Eves says he would also rebuild the public health infrastructure, which LePage has been dismantling, and restore the number of public health nurses. He said he would also accept federal funding for cancer screening, which LePage has turned down. Sweet says she would increase support for the community-based mental health system as well as “alternative therapies for stress reduction, pain management and addiction such as acupuncture, massage, Reiki.”
Dion says he would more stringently regulate health care providers to contain costs and move to a “single price” market under a Maine Health Commission, modeled on the Maine Public Utilities Commission, that would review services, spending and fee structures. He says he would expand community-based health care to offer services like primary care, nutrition and pre-natal care away from hospitals in order to “reverse the trend toward concentration in a few large institutions.”
All these Democrats received failing grades from the National Rifle Association because they all support regulated firearms in different ways. Adam Cote has been blasting Janet Mills on the airwaves over her past positions on gun control, even though their current positions on the issue are not that far apart. A self-described Second Amendment supporter, Adam Cote says he does not support an “assault weapons ban,” but would ban high-capacity magazines that allow people to shoot 30 times without reloading.
Mills took some flack at a recent candidate forum at Camden Hills Regional High School for essentially taking the same position. She would not commit to supporting an assault weapons ban, but says she supports a ban on high-capacity magazines and bump stocks. Mills also supports Mark Dion’s so-called “red flag bill” that would create a process to temporarily confiscate guns from individuals believed to pose a threat to themselves or others. However, Mills’ opponents also point out that she received an A ratings from the NRA while she was in the Legislature. During that time, she voted against universal background checks for fire arms sales and against allowing public universities to ban firearms on campus.
In addition to submitting the red flag bill, in 2013, Dion also sponsored a bill to require background checks for firearms purchases with exemption for transfers between family members. Eves, Sweet and Russell all support bans on high-capacity clips and bump stocks and measures to prevent domestic abusers and people with mental illnesses from obtaining firearms. In addition, Eves and Sweet are calling for universal background checks for all gun purchases.
When it comes to dealing with the opiate epidemic, Mills has been the most outspoken in her support for harsher penalties for drug offenders. Last year, she submitted a bill to bring back felony sentences for first-time, low-level possession of methamphetamine, cocaine and heroin. At the time, Mills argued that it was necessary to use the threat of a felony to force drug users into treatment, but Mark Dion led the charge in the Legislature to amend the bill to make the penalties less severe.
On her website, Mills includes a detailed plan to deal with the drug crisis, including lifting the two-year limit on methadone treatment for Medicaid patients and raising Medicaid reimbursement rates for treatment providers; expanding access to medication-assisted treatment and drug courts; and creating “hub and spoke” centers that provide treatment as well as other services such as employment and housing assistance. Mills says she would also continue to limit the prescribing of opioid pain relievers; provide additional resources to areas with high numbers of overdoses; make the overdose antidote naloxone and recovery coaches more available; expand the number of detox slots; and increase drug prevention education in schools.
Dion says he would like to shift the drug problem more outside the criminal system and into the medical arena. He supports creating clinically supervised “safe injection zones” where medical staff is made available to prevent overdoses and provide opportunities for treatment. Dion told the Maine Beacon podcast in April that he would oppose efforts to continue to criminalize addiction, but said he would keep misdemeanor offenses in order to give courts leverage to mandate drug treatment or “other corrective behavior.” However, he added that he is skeptical of the role drug courts play in giving drug offenders the option of treatment over incarceration because “recovery cannot begin until the addict recognizes the need for recovery.” Dion said he would also like to work with municipal leaders to reform local zoning laws to allow the development of housing for people in recovery.
Eves told The Free Press that he will “oppose any efforts to increase simple, low-level drug possession offenses from a misdemeanor to a felony.” He says he will make medication-assisted treatment “available for every person with opioid use disorder,” implement the hub-and-spoke treatment model, expand drug courts and develop partnerships between local police departments, drug treatment providers and social service agencies to divert people with addictions into treatment rather than jail or prison. Eves says he will also lift the two-year methadone treatment cap for Medicaid patients, raise Medicaid reimbursement rates for treatment, expand the number of detox slots, create more peer recovery centers, expand access to naloxone, and make recovery coaches more available to health care providers. Eves says he will focus more resources on mental health services, housing and employment for people in recovery and invest in evidence-based prevention programs in schools and communities. Finally, Eves says he will prohibit pharmaceutical companies from marketing high-dose opiates.
On her website, Sweet notes that over 65 percent of prison inmates have addiction and behavioral health problems, but few receive treatment. She says she will move people with addictions from prison to community-based treatment. Diane Russell supports supervised, safe injection sites as well as needle exchange programs and expanded access to naloxone. Russell also says she would expunge the records of those convicted for certain marijuana crimes.
Cote says on his website that he would join the National Governors Association Compact to Fight Opioid Addiction, which LePage has eschewed, and improve access to naloxone and medication-assisted treatment and increase spending on addiction recovery programs.
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