Ten questions for candidate Mitchell

Posted Oct. 25, 2010, at 6:24 p.m.
Last modified March 20, 2011, at 6:29 a.m.

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Libby Mitchell has talked a great deal about her experience, but not quite as much about her actual record. I’ve looked at it, and I have a few questions for her.

Sen. Mitchell claims to value bipartisanship, yet she was the first speaker of the House in Maine history to use a parliamentary gimmick to pass a state budget bill by a simple majority vote. At the time, Republican legislators characterized her actions “dictatorial” and “an abuse of power.” What exactly was bipartisan about approving the state budget in this divisive manner?

According to the Legislature’s fiscal office, state General Fund spending increased from $1.7 billion to $2.1 billion during her tenure as speaker. This 22 percent increase in General Fund spending was the largest by any Legislature in the last 20 years. With a record like that, how can we trust her to be a prudent spender of tax dollars?

Maine was just identified by Forbes Magazine as the worst state in the nation for business, yet Sen. Mitchell recently sponsored LD 1665, which would have made Maine the only state in the nation to force every business, no matter its size, to provide paid sick leave to employees. Wouldn’t this bill, had it passed, have made Maine’s business climate even worse?

As part of its analysis, Forbes found Maine’s level of business regulation to be the second most burdensome in the nation. As a solution, Sen. Mitchell has proposed to hire additional state employees to help businesses navigate the state’s maze of regulations. How, though, do you improve a state’s regulatory climate by increasing the number of government employees businesses must deal with?

A governor must be responsible for holding state agencies accountable for their performance, yet Sen. Mitchell continues to be a strong supporter of the DirigoChoice health program, which today provides health coverage to less than one-tenth the number of people it promised to. If having a state program meet less than 10 percent of its stated goals is an acceptable level of performance, what is an unacceptable level of performance?

On the issue of accountability, Sen. Mitchell has suggested that she favors increased government transparency. During this past legislative session, however, she sponsored LD 1353, which would have made it illegal for Maine taxpayers to find out how much public employees are paid. How would this bill have made government more transparent?

Despite state budget shortfalls, Sen. Mitchell, alone among the gubernatorial candidates, has chosen to run a taxpayer-funded campaign. She’s defended this choice on the grounds that Maine voters approved a ballot question authorizing public funding of campaigns. Maine voters, though, also approved a ballot question requiring the state pay 55 percent of the cost of K-12 education, which the state, during Sen. Mitchell’s time in legislative leadership, has failed to do. Why does she think scarce tax dollars should be used to fund political campaigns like hers, but not used to fund public schools?

This past legislative session, Sen. Mitchell sponsored or co-sponsored 10 bond authorization bills that, had they all passed the Legislature and been approved by voters, would have increased Maine’s debt by a staggering $550 million. As an obvious proponent of creating more government debt, can Sen. Mitchell identify a single state or nation that has borrowed its way to prosperity?

She has promised that raising taxes would be the “last place” she would go as governor, yet according to the Legislature’s fiscal office, the tax and fee increases enacted during her time in Senate leadership will, by 2013, have cost Maine taxpayers $660 million. Should we expect more of the same if Sen. Mitchell is elected governor?

Beginning in 2007, voters have systematically rejected a legislative proposal to extend term limits, a proposed beverage tax increase to fund Dirigo Health, an amendment to Maine’s marriage statues, and an expansion of the state sales tax. According to the Law and Legislative Reference Library, at no time in the last century have so many legislative initiatives been rejected by voters in so short a period of time. As someone who supported every one of these measures, how does Sen. Mitchell explain the apparent disconnect between what the Legislature has done under her leadership and what Maine people want it to do?

If Sen. Mitchell could let me know the answers to these questions by next Tuesday, I would appreciate it.

Stephen Bowen directs the Center for Education Excellence at the Maine Heritage Policy Center. His blog can be found at www.GreatSchoolsforME.org.

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