October 20, 2012

District 84 candidates Kusiak, Picchiotti clash on state's direction

By Matt Hongoltz-Hetling mhhetling@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

FAIRFIELD -- The candidates for House District 84 differ on whether the state is headed in the right direction to improve the economy and create jobs for the towns of Fairfield, Rome and Smithfield.

Democratic challenger Karen Kusiak, a lifelong educator, said she thinks the state is on the wrong path. Republican incumbent John Picchiotti, a former insurance agent and businessman, said he would like to see the state continue to make progress on reducing business regulations.

Kusiak emphasized investing in the state's roads and infrastructure, while Picchiotti spoke more about cutting red tape and energy costs.

Kusiak said she would direct more resources toward state projects with the potential to create jobs and stimulate the economy.

"We need to invest in the infrastructure of the state, improving roads, bridges, and other common networks," Kusiak said. "Those projects put people to work and they benefit small businesses. Having a well-functioning state will attract people to invest in Maine."

Picchiotti described the problem of solving the state's economic woes as a puzzle with many moving parts, including property taxes, health care costs and especially business retention.

"We need to move forward with looking closely at anti-business regulations," he said. "You can't destroy the state from an environmental perspective, but some are just ridiculous."

For example, Picchiotti said he has spoken recently with the owner of a company that builds dams with hydroelectric turbines in them. According to Picchiotti, the business owner told him he has to obtain 27 separate permits, including some federal ones.

"That would be one area I would like to look at to see what we could do without hurting the environment," he said. "It would be good for us to streamline the process of permitting."

Picchiotti said lowering energy costs for businesses and consumers also would help boost the local economy.

"We need to get natural gas spread out," he said. "That would cut energy costs in half."

Both agree that education will be important to Maine's future and that the state needs to do more to protect towns from rising education costs.

Kusiak said education funding will benefit the economy as well.

"Strong schools will bring people to our community, and people in our community will provide a demand for business services," Kusiak said. "I also think we need to continue to invest in education, from pre-K to higher education that includes the university system as well as what we think of as public schools."

Kusiak said she is concerned about initiatives that have come from the state education department during the last two years.

One policy she cited was a recent change in state law allowing charter schools, which redirects public education dollars away from existing schools.

"Proposals for wide-ranging school choice will undermine local schools," she said.

She also expressed concern about state education policies influenced by out-of-state companies that sell online classes.

"I think we need to think about who, exactly, is going to benefit," she said. "Those who are trying to sell goods or services to the people of the state, or the people of the state?"

Kusiak said she is qualified to make good decisions about how to build better schools.

"I would like to be a part of the conversation that shapes education policy," she said. "My experience provides a strong background for analyzing policies and proposals and having an understanding of what might happen when they're implemented."

Kusiak said the state has failed to follow through on a 1985 commitment to fund 55 percent of the essential programs and services administered by kindergarten-through-grade 12 schools.

"They have not funded that," she said.

(Continued on page 2)

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