AUGUSTA — Incumbent Sen. Roger Katz, serving his third term, faces a challenge in Senate District 15 from political newcomer Henry Dilts, who says he decided to run because he’s not happy with the direction the state is taking under the administration of Gov. Paul LePage.

“I see a lot of things that should be done, but they’re being ignored while the administration goes off on tangents,” said Dilts, 54, a Democrat from Augusta. “My opponent is a Republican who is part of the Legislature the governor counts on to get his legislation passed. I feel, running as a Democrat, I can be a better opponent of a lot of the bad legislation the governor is trying to push through.”

Meanwhile, Katz, a 67-year-old Republican from Augusta who has clashed with LePage on numerous issues in recent years, said it is no secret the Legislature’s relationship with Gov. LePage “has been strained at best” but said lawmakers can’t let that stop them from doing their jobs. He said he has demonstrated an ability to work with people in both parties to get things done.

“I really don’t care if it is a Republican’s idea or a Democrat’s idea; if it’s a good idea, I’m on it,” Katz said. “We’ve got to do a better job of finding common ground, and I think I’m one of the people who can help us get there. And I hope my service on both the Appropriations Committee and Government Oversight Committee has shown I know how to get things done.”

District 15 is made up of Augusta, Vassalboro, China, Sidney, and Oakland. Election Day is Nov. 8, when 35 state Senate seats and 151 House seats will be on ballots statewide.

One subject about which the Senate District 15 candidates disagree is whether the state, as a major occupier of office space in Augusta, should locate its offices in state-owned or state-leased buildings.

Katz said the state should lease office space because it is cheaper than owning office space for the state in the long run when all costs are considered. It also is better for the city of Augusta in that the building owners who lease to the state pay Augusta property taxes, while the state does not pay property taxes on buildings it owns.

“The state is good at many things, but owning and managing property is not one of them,” said Katz, an attorney and partner at Lipman & Katz law firm in Augusta. “I hope the model will be the state is leasing privately owned property as much as possible. In the long run it is cheaper and it helps Augusta maintain its tax base. It is right for Augusta but also right for the state. Private business can own and maintain property better, and less expensively, than a government can.”

Dilts, an educational technician at Medomak Valley High School in Waldoboro, said he thinks most state office buildings should be owned by the state, so the state wouldn’t be at the whim of a landlord who might decide to increase lease prices. However, he said he plans to propose, if elected, that the state make a payment in lieu of taxes to the city of Augusta, of an amount equal to the money it otherwise would pay in property taxes if the state weren’t tax-exempt.

“I believe the state owes the city of Augusta, or any municipality it is in, the difference in what the municipality is not collecting in property taxes,” Dilts said.

Dilts said other legislation he’d introduce, if elected, would include restoration of state revenue sharing to municipalities and an increase in state aid to education. He said small rural towns and school districts have been starved for revenue since the state cut funding in recent years. He also would propose a review of the process used by the state to award contracts for work, and install a system of having a biannual audit of all state departments. He would have all state agencies use zero-based budgeting “to try to ensure the money we spend is going to where it should be, and make sure we’re spending enough to make sure these state agencies are as efficient as possible.”

He thinks Maine should have statewide universal health insurance, funded by taxes.

“I want to see that for two reasons,” Dilts said. “One, every person in Maine needs to have reliable health insurance that is affordable. And the other is it would be a way for businesses to stay profitable, by not having to go out and pay for employee health insurance. I want to take the mandate for health insurance off of individual business owners.”

Katz said he, if re-elected, plans to introduce legislation to get the state to create an economic development plan that sets specific goals and reform the state’s outmoded tax structure. He would sponsor a package of legislation designed to attract new residents to Maine, which he said is facing a shortage of workers as the state with the oldest population in the country.

“Finding ways to keep our kids here is part of the solution, but equally important is figuring out ways to attract new residents to Maine,” Katz said. “I don’t care if someone comes from New Hampshire, Iowa, Poland or Burundi; if they have the American dream, we want them here.”

He said ways to make Maine more attractive to keep young residents from leaving and attract new residents could include making post-secondary education more affordable, increasing the availability of English as a second language courses, establishing an “Office of New Mainers” in the governor’s cabinet that would be focused on attracting new residents, and improving Maine’s internet infrastructure so it is robust enough to allow more people to work in their homes in Maine and enjoy its high quality of life and “telecommute” to their jobs.

Dilts said the state should support Maine-based industries better and that Maine companies should be given preference when decisions are made about the purchase of products and services.

He said he has a broad background that would help make him a good state legislator.

“I’ve established three business in the state of Maine, in the 1990s, two of which still operate,” he said. “I’ve been involved in some civic organizations, like the chamber of commerce. I’ve been a schoolteacher. So I’ve got a pretty well-rounded background. I’m an honest and sincere person and very determined to go and help out our state and its people in the way they want to be helped.”

Katz credits his late father, Bennett Katz, who was a Maine Senate majority leader, with instilling in him a desire to help create good public policy, and said his time as mayor in Augusta also gave him skills in working for the greater good, not for a political party, that help him be a good legislator.

“We don’t have partisan elections in the city, and that just made it so much easier for all of us to work together,” he said. “I’ve tried to take that same attitude to the State House.”

Keith Edwards — 621-5647

[email protected]

Twitter: @kedwardskj


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