District 89 candidates debate the issues
FARMINGTON - Although both House District 89 candidates agreed during a debate held tonight that the economy is their number one priority, they each had their own ideas of how to fix it.
Democratic candidate Dennis Haszko of Farmington and Republican Lance Harvell of Farmington debated for one hour in the House District 89 candidacy debate, which was prompted by numerous questions submitted by the online readers of the DailyBulldog.com, which sponsored the event, and by the audience of nearly 100 people attending the event this evening at the University of Maine at Farmington's Lincoln Auditorium.
Moderator Woody Hanstein of DailyBulldog.com read the questions and asked follow-up questions and the candidates were allowed to ask follow-up questions of their opponent at any point in the debate.
This is all in preparation for a special election to be held Tuesday, Feb. 3 in the District 89 towns of Farmington and Industry to fill the seat vacated by Janet Mills, D-Farmington, after she was elected attorney general last month.
Harvell, 45, an employee at Verso Paper Co. in Jay, began by saying he's "seen every job leave this community. There's no economic opportunity here." He added his best advice to his 17-year-old son is "to get on a bus ticket and leave."
He pointed out the state has an $838 million shortfall and that the state's spending "is out of control," as it grows more unstable as its infrastructure continues to deteriorate.
"We need to set real priorities," Harvell said. Infrastructure, fire, police and education are pirorities, "everyone else get in line." He suggested cutting Gov. John Baldacci's small business insurance initiative Dirigo Healthcare and find ways to cut the state Department of Health and Human Services, "because it's a third of the state's budget."
Candidate Haszko, 41, who manages a patent practice within Eaton Peabody Patent Group LLC, took a different view of the state's economic fix.
"My advice would be more than a bus ticket out of here for my children," Haszko said. Investing in research and development and to support education is the way to grow prosperity, he said. Pine tree Zones, a tax incentive program to attract businesses here is a good idea, he said, and should be expanded.
"The biggest issue of the economy is growing jobs and getting help for small businesses," Haszko said. In response to Harvell's plan to scrap Dirigo Healthcare, Haszko agreed it does have problems, but that maybe it can still be fixed.
"Affordable healthcare is something I care about. Maybe we can still salvage Dirigo," Haszko said. In general, he noted, the state's budget "has already been cut to the bone" so we need to look elsewhere for answers.
"We need to increase efficiencies and not be so shortsighted," Haszko said. At one point, Harvell turned to Haszko and said pointedly, if enough revenue isn't coming in, cuts have to be made.
Haszko responded by saying the the two largest state expenditures at DHHS are for the elderly and for the children.
"Are you advocating we cut services to them?" Haszko shot back. "Where exactly would you make the cuts?"
Harvell said that by discontinuing Dirigo, $100 million could be saved in a few years. "My point is that the reality is you have to get the money from somewhere," he added.
"There's a lot of hope that the stimulus package money coming from the federal government will help, but we have to get our ducks in a row," Haszko said.
On the question of whether they would vote to allow the town of Carrabassett Valley to annex a portion of Redington Township so a wind power project can move forward after it was turned down twice by the Land Use Regulation Commission, Haszko said he would vote for it. Harvell said it was "troubling if it proved to be an end-run around, but added if it wasn't, he would approve it.
Overhauling Maine's tax structure, both agreed, needs to be done. Harvell said decreasing property tax and increasing sales tax may be the way to go. Haszko noted the current structure is most unfair to the lowest wage earners who pay a higher, disproportionate tax amount. He suggested transferring a larger tax burden to non-residents, which Harvell pounced on by saying "You cannot tax one property more than another because of who they are."
On the gay marriage legislation proposed in the current session, Haszko said he supports a civil union affording the same legal rights as traditional marriage. Harvell said he doesn't support gay marriage. He added that the proposed gay marriage legislation simply "diffuses the issue of Baldacci's failed economic policy." It's meant to distract from the real issues at hand, he added.
On the move to consolidate schools and jails both said the idea is fraught with problems.
"The savings people think they'll get may not be all it's cracked up to be," Haszko said, and added, in the end it may cost more because of the larger bureaucracy needed to run it.
Both said there are tough times ahead when asked if things will be better or worse off two years from now.
"People are going to have to live within their means," Harvell said. Haszko agreed there are hard times ahead but, "I'm hopeful we will be better off than today."