House, Senate candidates debate health care, tax breaks

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CUMBERLAND — The candidates for state House District 45 and Senate District 25 shared their opinions on a variety of issues, including health care and tax breaks for businesses, at a candidates forum Tuesday.

Democrat Dale Denno and Republican Mike Timmons are running in the redistricted House District 45, which includes Cumberland and a southern section of Gray. The Cumberland residents are vying for the seat being vacated by Rep. Steve Moriarty, D-Cumberland.

In Senate District 25, Democrat Cathy Breen of Falmouth and Republican Cathy Manchester of Gray are competing to replace independent Sen. Dick Woodbury of Yarmouth. The district covers Chebeague Island, Cumberland, Falmouth, Gray, Long Island, Yarmouth and part of Westbrook.

Timmons has been Cumberland Fairgrounds president for six years, and retired two years ago after 47 years in education, which included time as a school principal, assistant superintendent, special education director and teacher.

He also served five years on the Windham Town Council, including a year as its chairman, and spent time on the town’s Board of Assessment Review. Gov. Paul LePage appointed him last year to the Maine Harness Racing Commission, a position he will have to relinquish if elected to the House.

Denno served on the School Administrative District 51 Board of Directors from 1991-1997, and was its chairman in 1995-1996.

He retired in December 2013 from the Maine Department of Health and Human Services, where he was director of the Office for Family Independence. Denno worked directly with the Legislature for more than two years in that capacity.

Manchester was police chief in Norway from 1990-1995, and spent 2009-2010 on the Gray Town Council. She owned a small business for 18 years and has been a partner with Keller Williams Realty.

Along with being a high school coach, administrator, teacher’s aide and athletic director, Manchester has also worked as a probation and parole officer for the state.

Breen served on the Falmouth Town Council from 2005-2011, including two years as chairwoman. She spent six years as as Falmouth’s representative on the Greater Portland Council of Governments.

Breen also spent 2004-2007 on the board of directors of Community Counseling Center, and sits on the board of directors of Spurwink Services, which works with children and adults across the state who have developmental disabilities and behavioral health challenges.

MaineCare

The candidates were asked their views on expansion of MaineCare, also known as Medicaid, a program that provides help to people who cannot afford to pay for medical care. Its expansion has been a major point of contention in Augusta, forum moderator and Portland Regional Chamber CEO Chris Hall noted.

“The most urgent action this new Legislature needs to take is to accept federal dollars for MaineCare,” Denno said. “As a lawyer I’ve listened to all the arguments against it and I heard nothing that carries water at all. We are now sending our federal tax dollars to other states to cover their citizens, while we deny coverage to our own.”

The state is foregoing care for 70,000 of its citizens, he argued, noting that those people without resources and insurance still get care, but end up doing so through hospital emergency rooms, at a point when they are quite sick, and at a great expense.

“It is the wrong way to treat people, and it’s the wrong way for Maine,” Denno said.

Timmons disagreed, asking, “who’s paying for those federal dollars? It just doesn’t come to Maine free.”

He said he believes that those who need care should receive it, but that “the system has been drained by many people that get the benefits, but really and truly, others need it a whole lot more.”

Breen agreed with Denno, saying she believes every Mainer eligible under the Affordable Care Act should be covered.

“I think health care is a basic human right,” she said. “Right now we are foregoing hundreds of millions of dollars of federal money that we as federal taxpayers have already paid for. We are not allowing them into the state to cover over 70,000 who need health insurance and don’t have it.”

Manchester, who also opposed expansion, said Medicaid was designed to help those unable to provide for themselves. She said 31 percent of Mainers are on MaineCare, while 50 percent of births are funded by the program.

“The expansion of Medicaid would add those that are capable of work to the rolls,” she said. “Eventually at least 30 percent of their costs will be passed to the taxpayers of Maine. … It would be nice if we could provide health care for everyone, but we simply can’t afford it. We have to pick our priorities, and our priorities need to be those that are not capable of caring for themselves: our youth, our elderly, our disabled, our mentally ill.”

Business tax breaks

Another topic candidates tackled was tax breaks for businesses. Breen said she supports the Business Equipment Tax Exemption and Business Equipment Tax Reimbursement programs, as well as tax increment financing, noting how TIF programs have been used in Falmouth.

Manchester pointed out the need for well-paying jobs. “We need to have a comprehensive tax reform that encourages investment in businesses that will provide higher-paying jobs for our citizens,” she said, adding that bringing better business to Maine requires tax incentives.

“Any evaluation of tax incentives should be looked at in the context of an overall strategic plan for the state,” Denno said, noting that review and re-evaluation of those incentives is important. “I think we’ve been … very much inclined to change course every two years, and that’s not working for us.”

Windham used TIFs several years ago to bring business there, Timmons said, “and some of it worked quite well, and some of it didn’t.”

“I know that there are many strategies that can be used to get businesses to the state of Maine,” he added, but they need “to include a payback, so to speak, and we need to be able to see how many people are in that business, and how big it is, and how much they’re looking for, for a break. … You need to make sure that you know going in what the outcome is supposed to be.”

Election Day is Nov. 4.

Alex Lear can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 113 or alear@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @learics.

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A Maine native and Colby College graduate, Alex has been covering coastal communities since 2001, and currently handles Bath, Topsham, Cumberland, and North Yarmouth. He and his wife, Lauren, live in the Portland area, and Alex recently released his third album of original music.