Candidate Thibodeau visits Downeast

Winterport Senator Michael Thibodeau (R), whose family owns the only snow shovel producing company in Maine, will be running for governor in the 2018 elections. (Photo by Bill Kitchen)

By Sarah Craighead 

Dedmon

 

Michael Thibodeau has a lot to think about this time of year. His family business is the only producer of snow shovels in Maine, so he keeps an optimistic eye on the weather. “Get on down to Pineo’s, because Snowmageddon is on the way,” he said, laughing. 

But Thibodeau’s second job isn’t in meteorology, it’s in Augusta serving as president of the Senate. And, more recently, his job is on the road. Senator Thibodeau (R-Winterport) announced his candidacy for governor in October, and between now and June hopes to convince Maine voters that he’s the right person to replace Gov. LePage. His republican rivals for Blaine House include former Health and Human Services Commissioner Mary Mayhew, House Minority Leader Ken Fredette of Newport, and Senate Majority Leader Garrett Mason of Lisbon Falls.

On Monday, Dec. 4 Thibodeau started the day in Eastport, meeting with his campaign co-chair and Eastport native Kevin Raye, Sen. Joyce Maker (R-Calais) and Washington County Commissioner Chris Gardner. They toured the new breakwater and visited the state pier. During a stop for dinner in Machias, Thibodeau answered questions on key issues facing Washington County and Maine.

Keeping the DCF Prison

Thibodeau said he spoke with Gardner about the importance of funding the Downeast Correctional Facility (DCF), located in Machiasport. Funding for the prison has been threatened multiple times over the years, most recently in LePage’s 2018-19 budget. “I’ve been supportive of trying to help Senator Maker and Representative Tuell in their efforts,” he said. “They worked hard last year to make sure the funding was in place.” 

Rep. Tuell (R-E.Machias) put forth legislation which would keep the facility funded until 2020, and that bill recently cleared the legislative council to go to committee, an important hurdle. If the bill does not succeed, DCF will close at the end of June 2018. The facility provides more than 50 jobs and countless paid and volunteer contributions to the local economy. “I’m in hopes we’ll find additional funding to get that through another year,” said Thibodeau.

The biggest issue

“How do we make Maine’s economy stronger? We’re very fortunate that our economy is relatively strong,” said Thibodeau, “but not all parts of our state are enjoying that same prosperity.”

Acknowledging that every candidate tells you they want to strengthen Maine’s economy, 

Thibodeau outlined his plan for doing it. “One of the ways is just to make sure we have a predictable regulatory system, so investors know what they’re getting into,” he said. “It’s also about a stable and predictable tax structure.” 

Thibodeau is proud of his work to repeal the tax increase passed by voters in November 2016. The surcharge would have raised the tax rate on income above $200,000 by three percent, with the additional dollars slated to fund public education. The referendum was highly controversial, and passed by less than one percentage point statewide. 

“If Maine would have left that in place our tax rate would have been 10.15 percent,” he said. “Massachusetts’ highest rate is just over five percent — we can’t have a tax rate that is double our competition.”

In place of the tax increase, the legislature redirected more funds — $175 million — toward K-12 education. “We worked really hard to make sure we honored the spirit of what the voters passed, without doing harm to the Maine economy.”

Expanding Digital Infrastructure

Thibodeau believes one of the most important infrastructure investments Maine can make is in high-speed internet. “We need to get it out to rural parts of the state. That opens up the entire world,” he said. 

He acknowledges that other forms of infrastructure, such as roads and bridges are expensive. But he said he hopes to find more ways to move freight, especially through the new Eastport facility. “With the deep water that exists there, that is such huge potential,” he said.

Plans for Health care

Recently Maine voters approved Medicaid expansion, with 60 percent of voters in favor of expanding health care benefits to include Mainers earning less than 138 percent of the federal poverty level. LePage has indicated that he will fight the expansion, despite voter support.

“We’ll see where the governor goes with this,” said Thibodeau. “If we do enact it, I want to make sure that there’s some Republican principles that are part of that,” he said. His ideas include an expectation of volunteerism or work in return for the health care, or perhaps a copay. “With anyone that...receives healthcare as part of their benefit package, it has a copay,” he said. “It doesn’t sit well when other people will get it with no copay as an entitlement.”

Marijuana taxation

Maine voters approved marijuana legalization in the Nov. 2016 election. Two months ago the legislature passed LD 1650, a bill to regulate and license recreational marijuana sales, and to enact a 10 percent tax on retail and wholesale sales. LePage vetoed the measure on Nov. 3. 

Thibodeau said he voted for LD1650, but not wholeheartedly. “Truth of the matter is, I'm not a fan of legalization as a whole,” he said. “I struggle to see, given the epidemic that we see in our state, how that was the right decision. But it was a decision that was made.”

LD1650 gave municipalities the option to opt-in to recreational marijuana sales or prohibit them, something that appealed to Thibodeau. But he did not like the local sales tax included in the bill.

“Here’s why. If you look at the numbers, the amount of money that somebody from Whiting or Robbinston, even Machias would enjoy as a percentage would be less than what they’d be paying to some of the bigger communities such as Bangor,” he said. “The service center [towns] are the real winners in the local option sales tax.”

Currently, municipalities receive a small portion of state revenues through revenue sharing, a program which was once funded at five percent, but was slashed by LePage in 2013. Now towns receive two percent, making Machias’ projected share for 2018 roughly $150,000. 

Thibodeau hopes his combination of business experience and track record in the senate will convince Mainers to vote for him. 

“I hope the voters will see those two things as qualities that will pay dividends to the people of the state of Maine,” he said. “Because somebody’s going to lead this state, and I’d like to think that voters would be served by somebody who could bring people together to get things done.”