GARDINER — In many ways, the issues that affect this southern Kennebec County city are the issues that are at the heart of the races of those seeking election to the Legislature — revenue sharing, the illegal drug crisis, spending on infrastructure, and education funding.

On Wednesday, the Gardiner Library Association hosted a forum for legislative candidates in the four House districts and two Senate districts that encompass Gardiner and its neighboring communities.

While all the candidates initially accepted the invitation, only candidates from Senate District 14 — independent Joseph Pietroski, Democrat Shenna Bellows and Republican Bryan Cutchen — and three-term Gardiner City Councilor Scott Williams, the Republican candidate in House District 83, attended. Rep. Gay Grant, D-Gardiner, was ill and unable to attend but sent a brief statement.

For many of the candidates, many of the issues are linked, particularly when it comes to revenue sharing and de facto cost sharing with the state.

The five candidates all agreed that the state should follow its own law dictating that 5 percent of taxes collected be shared with the municipalities where those taxes are collected. Since 2009, however, that share has been cut to help meet state budget objectives.

“This shouldn’t be an issue,” Williams said. “If you are going to make a law, you should follow it no matter who you are.”

Pietroski, who gave up his membership in the Republican party to run as an independent so that he would not be bound by the dictates of a political party, said he fully understands the consequences to taxpayers, which have included higher property taxes to meet municipal needs. To blunt the impact of that, he supports expanding the homestead exemption to put more money in the hands of taxpayers.

“Every community needs to maintain roads, new trucks, snow plows. There’s no end to the laundry list,” he said, The priority for Winthrop, where he lives, he said, is roads. “It’s a crisis that continues to grow.”

For Cutchen, a retired Navy admiral, there is no question about following the law; that’s what he committed to do.

“What this means is they are plugging (budget) holes with this, without making cuts,” he said. “We have to cut, prioritize programs and make state government more efficient.” By ensuring that municipalities receive their full share of revenue sharing will stabilize property taxes, he said.

For Bellows, a Democrat, restoring revenue sharing is a social justice issue. She said she has knocked on nearly 10,000 doors, and over and over she hears that retirees are afraid of losing their homes and are continuing to work in retirement to be able to pay their property taxes.

“People in retirement should not be working to pay property tax bills,” she said. “The state is not being fiscally responsible.”

Similarly, they agreed about the importance of education and the importance of state government reaching its mandated 55 percent share of education funding to ease the burden on taxpayers, but also to ensure that children educated in Maine have the skills they need to pursue college or vocational education.

The candidates split on their support for the referendum questions, although they support the bond issue for infrastructure.

Bellows said she supports all the questions because she believes in the voice of the people and citizen participation. If the questions need revision, she said, that’s something the Legislature can do.

Cutchen said he won’t vote for them, in part because the bar for getting a question in front of the voters is too low and in part because they are poorly written.

Pietroski said he supports the will of the people, but he wishes the Legislature had taken on its duty of offering alternative questions. But he didn’t offer support for all of questions. Question 3, requiring background checks, is poorly writing and Question 5, about ranked-choice voting, is against federal law,

Williams, who said no one — not even Gov. Paul LePage, who has urged the questions to be voted down — should tell people how to vote, said he won’t vote for the referendums.

The candidates agree that the state should assume a larger role in fighting the epidemic of illegal drug and the problems they bring, by supporting both treatment and additional law enforcement,

They also took on the need for infrastructure — from roads to broadband, and the need for civility in public discourse.

Voters head to the polls on Nov. 8 to vote to decide who will represent them in a number of races at the federal, state and local level, as well as to act on five ballot initiatives and a bond issue.

Candidates in House Districts 82, 84 and 87 and Senate District 22 had committed to appear at the forum but later withdrew.

Jessica Lowell — 621-5632

[email protected]

Twitter: @JLowellKJ


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