SCARBOROUGH — State Rep. Heather Sirocki, a three-term Republican, is challenged for re-election in House District 28 by Town Councilor Chris Caiazzo.
Caiazzo, who is serving his first term on the council, was also a member of the Board of Education for three years. Although he is running as a Democrat, he said he would function as a nonpartisan, in light of the political divisiveness being demonstrated nationally.
“I’m really working hard to separate myself from what’s going on on the national level,” Caiazzo said.
Caiazzo said rather than voting along party lines, as he believes Sirocki consistently does, his votes in Augusta would reflect the “constituents of Scarborough.”
Sirocki received a 0 percent rating on the 2015 House Legislative Scorecard of the Maine People’s Alliance; a 0 percent rating on the 2015 Working Families Legislative Scorecard of the Maine AFL-CIO; a 20 percent score on the 2015 Maine Conservation Voters Environmental Scorecard, and a 100 percent rating and Award for Conservative Excellence for 2015 from the American Conservative Union.
She is a dental hygienist who was first elected in 2010, and would be termed out if re-elected Nov. 8. Sirocki refused to be interviewed for this story, either in person or by phone.
Caiazzo, 46, is a Portland native and former U.S. Navy reservist. He is a business development manager for NEM Power-Systems, and has lived in Scarborough for 16 years.
He and his wife have two sons, one of whom is still a student at Scarborough High School.
The issue residents are “most concerned about, hands-down” is property taxes, Caiazzo said.
Many of the struggles Scarborough has had in the last year stem from tax-related issues, rather than local spending, he said.
When municipalities don’t receive adequate funding from the state, it falls to taxpayers to make up the difference through an increase in property taxes, he said. In the same way that the town has worked to refine its spending plan in order to keep property tax increases to a minimum, the Legislature also needs to “establish funding priorities,” Caiazzo said.
As a solution, Caiazzo is proposing a local property tax relief program for residents to create stability and a level of predictability.
As a statewide solution that would alleviate some of the property tax burden from taxpayers, as well as provide sufficient monetary support to the schools, Caiazzo said he supports Question 2, the Stand Up For Students ballot initiative.
The initiative, if enacted, would levy a 3 percent increase on taxable income for Mainers who earn more than $200,000 a year as a means to fund 55 percent of the cost of statewide education.
This new funding mechanism is “critical,” he said. “As a Legislature, they need to have the fortitude to live up to the expectation” that public education should be adequately funded.
Caiazzo also wants the state to focus more on alternative energy sources as viable options for communities.
Seeing as alternative energy sources could be an “economic stimulus” for a community, “I just don’t understand what the resistance is, other than political,” he said.
Other referendum questions
Caiazzo supports all of the state referendum questions, with the exception of Question 1, the proposed statewide legalization of marijuana for those 21 or older.
Concerned it would “send the wrong message” to kids and adolescents, Caiazzo said he would like to see more research concerning what level of consumption would be acceptable before someone becomes impaired.
The state “needs a better mechanism to regulate and control it if we’re going to make something legal,” he said.
Caiazzo supports Question 3, which would subject individuals who privately buy and sell firearms to background checks.
Training and educational outreach are necessary components when enforcing a measure like this, he said.
He acknowledged that there’s a “large loophole” in the regulation of private gun sales, and said this measure would help close that loophole. “I’d rather err on the side of inconvenience,” he said.
Caiazzo also supports Question 5, the initiative for ranked-choice voting. “If this helps get more people engaged” in the voting process, he said, “then I’m absolutely for that.”
When asked about Question 4, the statewide referendum that calls for a gradual increase in the minimum wage from $7.50 to $12 an hour, Caiazzo replied, “If someone is willing to work 40 hours a week, they ought to be able to make a livable wage.”
The proposed incremental increase over the next few years is also a “reasonable compromise,” he said.
As local aid efforts like Scarborough’s Operation Hope continue to provide a constructive outlet to rehabilitate opioid addicts, Caiazzo acknowledged that managing a crisis eventually needs to happen on a larger, statewide scale.
“This is clearly a crisis, and (it) needs to stop being a political football,” he said.
“The role of government is to support the needs of the community,” which means “adequate treatment facilities, recovery programs and preventative programs,” he said. And “right now, we don’t have that.”
Following Gov. Paul LePage’s now-disproved claims black or Hispanic drug dealers, and the inflammatory rant the governor leveled at a Democratic legislator, Caiazzo said he would “absolutely support” a formal censuring process in the future.
“There’s a fine line between expressing an opinion and being a bully,” he said.
Caiazzo hedged when asked who he is supporting for president, Democrat Hillary Clinton or Republican Donald Trump. “I really cannot support anyone who does not support veterans,” he said.