2013-02-22 / Front Page

Budget proposal presents problems

Governor’s fiscal plan dominates discussion
By Tracy Orzel
Staff Writer

Sen. David Dutremble (Dist. 4) held a forum at town hall in Kennebunk Wednesday, Feb. 13 to discuss the state’s proposed budget. Dutremble was joined by Sen. Ann Haskell (Dist. 9), who helped field and answer questions from the audience. (Tracy Orzel photo) Sen. David Dutremble (Dist. 4) held a forum at town hall in Kennebunk Wednesday, Feb. 13 to discuss the state’s proposed budget. Dutremble was joined by Sen. Ann Haskell (Dist. 9), who helped field and answer questions from the audience. (Tracy Orzel photo) KENNEBUNK – Residents from Kennebunk and the surrounding area gathered at town hall for a public forum led by Sen. David Dutremble (Dist. 4, Arundel, Kennebunk, Kennebunkport and part of Biddeford) last week.

The senator hosted the forum Wednesday, Feb. 13 to discuss the state’s proposed budget and other issues, such as education, welfare and gun control.

Sen. Ann Haskell, who represents parts of Portland and Westbrook, was also on hand to help answer questions from the audience.

Dutremble kicked off the meeting by touching upon the governor’s proposed budget, which cut revenue sharing to municipalities by $400 million.

“The governor has put his budget forward. I don’t think many of us like it and we need to find a way to balance our budget without hurting the people that we represent and it’s going to be a challenging year in Augusta,” said Dutremble.

“He wants to balance the budget by putting everything back on the towns. Myself, I’m not in favor. I am not going to vote for something that loses revenue sharing.”

According to Dutremble, unfunded tax breaks in 2012 contributed to the budget’s shortfall.

“A tax break is great, but when you don’t have a way to pay for it, it’s going to catch up to you at some point,” said Dutremble.

Town Manager Barry Tibbetts shared a few thoughts with Dutremble and Haskell on how the state could better balance their budget.

Tibbetts asked if the tax breaks given last year could be repealed, as they seem to be the partial cause of the current fiscal crisis.

“What we gave in tax breaks,” said Tibbetts, “almost equals what we’re short now. I would just ask you to put that on your table as part of your negotiation to balance it, because I think that there needs to be some balance there.”

Tibbetts noted when Kennebunk prepares its municipal budgets and projects its revenues, the town always under-projects by 10 percent.

“We do that on purpose because you just don’t know what’s going to happen,” said Tibbetts, who urged the state to do the same when preparing the two-year biennial budget.

Tibbetts also asked Dutremble and Haskell to consider looking into a local option sales tax, the revenues from which would be invested in roads and infrastructure, economic development and general assistance.

Both senators were receptive to Tibbetts’ comments and made notes while he spoke about the tourist industry and attracting local businesses to the Kennebunks.

“We’ve got something (Los Angeles) doesn’t have, Phoenix doesn’t have and a lot of other cities don’t have. They don’t have the quality of life that we have. They don’t have the amenities that we have. We’ve got something we can sell very solidly and it’s not going to take wheel barrows of money to get businesses here,” said Tibbetts. “And that little bit of local option sales tax would be fabulous.”

Dutremble said he heard of other states that have a local option sales tax and agreed that it was a good idea.

Residents were also concerned about spending $100 million to build a new prison in Windham.

Diane Denk of Kennebunk pointed out that investing in preschools, education and social work would cut down on the need for new prisons in Maine and asked Dutremble what his stance was on the topic.

“Myself, I don’t believe we need a prison,” said Dutremble. “I believe we need many upgrades as far as electronics and video surveillance equipment for staff to keep them safe but I think spending that type of money on a prison is not what’s needed now.”

As for investing in education, Dutremble said he couldn’t agree more.

“I think the bottom line is, start when they’re young, educate the people and keep them out of instances where they end up going to prison.”

Haskell followed Dutremble’s remark with, “If you build it, they will come.”

Kennebunk resident Gayle Spofford said she couldn’t justify spending a $100 million on a jail when education is being cut.

“Most of the data shows that really what we need to offer is funded pre-K, which will keep more kids out of jail. I don’t see the priorities,” said Spofford. “Cutting education is like cutting your own throat. We have to find a way to allocate from the available funds as much as possible without significantly harming other groups.”

The conversation quickly turned welfare.

One resident asked what was being done to address the welfare problem in Maine.

A paramedic firefighter for 26 years, Dutremble said he’s seen people abusing the system firsthand and given $500 rescue rides to individuals who didn’t require one.

On the other hand, Dutremble said, many people in Maine live one paycheck away from losing their homes.

When asked why Maine covers health care costs for parents in addition to minor children, Haskell said at certain poverty levels, it’s more cost-effective to treat them before they become chronically ill.

“If you don’t cover those folks, they go to the ER and the cost is debt and it (falls to) all of us – we all end up paying that” said Haskell.

As for those who smoke and drink while enjoying the benefits of MaineCare, Haskell said the state’s hands were tied.

Kennebunkport resident Ann Marie Briggs asked those present to keep in mind that a portion of MaineCare goes to pay for nursing home beds.

“We’re not just talking about a 40-year-old person who drinks too much or smokes too much, we’re talking about where we’re going to put these old people who have no one else to take care of them,” said Briggs. “I think sometimes people forget that nationally more than 50 percent of Medicaid goes to nursing home beds.”

Before the meeting came to a close, Denk asked if there was anything being done by the state legislature to ban assault weapons.

While Dutremble didn’t go into detail, he did say there were more then 40 gun bills floating around the legislature and is in favor of background checks for all gun sales including those purchased at gun shows.

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