Phil Bartlett, Maine State Senate District Six  
 
 

Issues

economic growth | education | health care | tax reform | environment | civil rights

Economic Growth

Perhaps the most pressing challenge facing the State is how to ensure strong economic growth while confronting soaring health care costs, rising property taxes, and low college graduation rates. Without a skilled work force, reasonable tax rates and affordable health care, it will be difficult to encourage businesses to relocate to Maine and to promote entrepreneurship. It is essential, therefore, that we tackle these issues in a thoughtful and bipartisan way.

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Education

In 2005, the Legislature implemented the essential programs and services model of allocating state resources for K-12 education. This model considers the cost to each community of providing essential resources to meet the needs of its students to ensure that every child is given the opportunity to be successful. At the same time, it respects Maine's long-cherished tradition of local control over education decisions. In addition, the Legislature increased school funding by $250 million. As a result, Gorham, Scarborough and Westbrook all received significantly greater funding from the state for its schools.

Although Maine does a good job of educating students from kindergarten through high school, we have one of the lowest college graduation rates in the country. In an economy that is increasingly service-based and heavily reliant on advanced skills, this inhibits Maine's ability to recruit employers. To remedy this problem, the culture must change so that every student is encouraged to obtain post-secondary education. At the same time, we must ensure that there is a strong community college system to meet the diverse needs of our students and that is accessible to all

Unfortunately, too many students who are accepted at schools within the University of Maine system (including USM) are unable to attend due to the high tuition rates. We should provide scholarships and other forms of financial aid to bridge the gap between an accepted student's ability to pay and the cost of attending. This would ensure that students who work hard and are offered a place in the University of Maine system are not denied a college education based solely upon an inability to pay.

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Health Care

One of the most pressing concerns facing workers and employers alike is the ballooning costs of health insurance and prescription drugs. More and more of a family's income is consumed by these expenses, draining resources for other priorities like education, retirement savings, and home ownership. Similarly, too many employers are forced to forego hiring additional workers because of high health care costs or to stop offering health insurance altogether.

The Dirigo Health Plan signed into law by Governor Baldacci is an important first step to providing access to affordable healthcare. It will be important to build on this program to rein in health care costs by developing creative ideas and pursuing those with the greatest promise of achieving universal access to health care.

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Tax Reform

Property taxes are rising rapidly in many communities in Maine, burdening individuals and small businesses alike. Communities are faced with the wrenching choice between cutting education programs or further raising taxes. As property taxes rise, more and more families are forced to sell property that has been passed down several generations. The Legislature made progress in 2005 by enacting legislation that increased state funding for education, raised the Homestead Exemption to $13,000, and expanded the Circuit Breaker Program to provide up to $2,000 in property tax relief to individuals with incomes below $75,000 and families with incomes below $100,000. Although progress has been made, we must continue to explore ways to provide direct property tax relief to Maine families.

More fundamentally, tax reform is needed to avoid billion dollar budget deficits in the future. Maine's tax structure produces revenue that rises and falls with the economic cycle, producing enormous deficits when we can least afford them. History has demonstrated that saving money in rainy day funds is not an adequate mechanism for smoothing out the revenue stream. A better approach is to broaden the tax base in a revenue neutral way. A smaller tax rate on more sources would yield a more consistent and predictable revenue stream.

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Environment

No economic development strategy can ignore the importance of environmental protection. Indeed, to be successful in the long run, we must remain vigilant about protecting Maine's greatest natural resource: the environment. Many of our industries are dependent upon clean air, land and water, and the wide range of outdoor recreational activities available in Maine, such as hiking, fishing, skiing, and hunting, are an important part of our culture.

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Civil Rights

It is important that the civil rights of all Maine citizens be protected. Individuals should be free from discrimination on the basis of race, color, sex, age, religion, disability, national origin, ancestry, or sexual orientation. The Legislature’s recent passage of a law banning discrimination in housing, employment, education, credit and public accommodations on the basis of sexual orientation reflects the deep commitment of Maine people to protecting the rights of all citizens.

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