Q&A: Maine House District 92 Candidate Ann Matlack

Thu, 09/27/2018 - 10:30am

    Ann Matlack, D-St. George: I moved to Maine more than 40 years ago to attend the University of Maine and I have lived here practically ever since. I have been a resident of St. George for more than 25 years. Over those years, I have been involved in a variety of boards, committees and volunteer efforts for St. George and Knox County: I coached soccer and participated on the St. George Recreation Committee; served two terms on the former MSAD 50 School Board, 10 years on the St. George Budget Committee and 10 years on the Knox County Budget Committee. I also participated on the St. George Ad Hoc Internet Service Availability Committee, which looked at broadband quality and availability in St. George and what might be done to improve service town-wide. Currently, I’m the Board Chair of Penquis, a non-profit community action agency that provides services such as Head Start, LIHEAP and the Retired Senior Volunteer Program to improve the lives of people in need. 

    For seven years I was the Assistant to the City Manager of Rockland and for a short time, served as Town Administrator of South Thomaston. For more than 10 years, I worked for a consultant in analyzing maritime casualties and editing policy and procedure manuals for major shipping companies.

    I have a master’s degree in public policy and management from the Muskie School at the University of Southern Maine and a bachelor’s degree from the University of Maine at Orono. I was a member of the third class of the Midcoast Leadership Academy.

    It is this experience and interest in our local communities, along with an understanding of the broad issues facing our towns, that has led me to run for the State Legislature this year. 


    What are the three most pressing issues facing Maine today, and how would you like to see them resolved?

      • Medicaid expansion – More than 70,000 Mainers will see improvement in their health care coverage once Medicaid is expanded. Expansion would cover adults under age 65 earning up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level, which is about $16,700 a year for a single person and $34,600 for a family of four. Republican governors in at least five states (Arkansas, Arizona, Michigan, Nevada, Ohio) have voiced continuing support for expansion, and several openly opposed recent Congressional efforts to repeal expansion. Maine should take advantage of what we can learn from other states that have successfully expanded Medicaid, such as Colorado and Maryland, and create a sustainable program going forward. 
    • Comprehensive addiction recovery – Maine is the sixth worst state in US when it comes to the rise in overdose deaths and it’s an outlier among New England states. Knox County has the highest rate of addiction in the state. Other states have successfully reduced the overdose numbers by expanding Medicaid coverage, and Maine should follow their example. We should also adopt a comprehensive approach involving prevention, treatment and follow-up care. A “hub-and-spoke” model of care, integrating medication-assisted treatment – widely considered the most effective treatment for opioid addiction – with counseling, support and general health care services, would help individuals be more likely to succeed in their recovery. Additionally, it is important to ensure that those who enter jail or prison with substance abuse disorders have access to continuing treatment during incarceration and after release. We should also create and support programs that keep people from being incarcerated when what they need is recovery assistance.

    • Reduce municipal dependence on property taxes – Municipal tax rates are driven in largest part by school funding. The Legislature should fully fund public schools, as voters demanded with their votes in 2004 and 2016. Providing school funding at the 55 percent level demanded by these votes will reduce the need to pay for schools with local property taxes. The Legislature should also more fully fund school repair and replacement accounts so that school facilities can be maintained and improved regularly. Adequate and sustained investment in public schools improves children’s school performance and has a positive impact on how much they earn later on, particularly for children from low-income households. The Legislature should also Increase Revenue Sharing, which returns sales tax revenues to municipalities. We should be providing the full 5% of sales tax revenue to municipalities, as required, so they can continue to fund local services, including fire protection, winter road clearing, libraries and parks.

      How will you protect the local (municipal) taxpayer as you help shape a state budget?

    The best ways to protect folks from the increasing burdens of property taxes is to more fully fund education, return more revenue-sharing funds to local communities and ensure that Homestead Exemptions and Property Tax Fairness Credits for low and moderate-income residents are retained going forward. In the Legislature I will work to increase funding to towns for education and revenue sharing.


    Scientists have reported that the Gulf of Maine is warming and Senators Collins, King push for research into warming of Gulf of Maine. How will you work to ensure that Maine’s fisheries are vital and productive, and that the habitat and marine life are protected?

    Lobstering and fishing communities have been diligent over the years in maintaining the fisheries along our coast. Their practices, licensing requirements and other regulations have been more pro-active than other states and provinces with fishing industries. These efforts have been undercut by the warming of local ocean waters. While current catches of lobster are still bountiful, other species such as shrimp and cod can no longer be sustainably harvested, and the warming waters may soon adversely impact lobstering. Scientists in Maine, at the state and university levels, have been working to determine the root cause of the problems and how, and whether, these issues can be resolved. We need to continue to support these efforts, evaluate how we can sustain our fishing heritage and whether there are steps we can take to mitigate the ill effects of increasing ocean temperatures.


    What are your positions on energy policies and use of renewable energy (solar, wind, tidal turbine)? Should the state of Maine encourage renewables with tax and policy development?

    I support the use of renewable energy to offset the high cost of energy in the State of Maine. We need a broad array of energy sources and encouraging solar, wind and tidal power will allow us to draw on a variety of energy resources. We should provide more funding to Efficiency Maine and other efforts that encourage renewable energy production and also assist homeowners and businesses in reducing their energy usage and costs. 


    How do you want to see Maine laws governing the commercial growth and sale of marijuana to evolve?

    The benefits of medical cannabis are being seriously evaluated and the results look promising. Whether it’s using CBD (cannadibiol) for pain relief, reducing seizures in children, or other chronic illnesses, reputable medical research is more and more supportive of cannabis use in treating certain ailments. More work needs to be done, however, on refining and standardizing CBD and other cannabis products. Legalization of recreational marijuana has become bogged down in the Legislature. New laws governing the growing and sale of marijuana in Maine should be straight-forward and unambiguous and should not become entwined with rules governing medical cannabis. Appropriate rules and regulations can be developed that will legalize recreational marijuana, as approved by the voters of Maine, and create a significant revenue stream by taxing this industry.

     Penobscot Bay Pilot has posed questions to each candidate running for District Attorney, Maine Senate and Legislature, providing the opportunity for the public to better understand their position on issues important to the state. The candidates have responded with their individual written answers.


    What issues are emerging from your conversations with the public as you go about your campaign, and what solutions do you envision?

    Most conversations I’ve had with folks I’ve talked with while out knocking on doors, have been about expanding Medicaid – which is greatly supported – and controlling local property taxes, especially for seniors – which is also an issue many support. They’re also concerned with supporting teachers and the quality of education in our schools. These issues have all been the subject of referendum questions that were supported at the polls by Maine voters. The Legislature needs to seriously work towards meeting the levels of funding voters have told them to meet. These are issues I will be supporting in Augusta.


    Voters approved expansion of Medicaid. How do you want to see that implemented and funded?

    Medicaid should be expanded in Maine, as voters have endorsed through referendum and the courts have supported with their decisions. The current Legislature has identified $60 million to fund Medicaid expansion for the first two years. Going forward, the Legislature should craft legislation that supports the state’s share of the cost. Several states, including Colorado and Maryland, have worked on ways their states can implement Medicaid expansion for the benefit of their residents. The Legislature should develop a program specific to Maine that will support Medicaid expansion based on the needs of our residents. The program could include Medicaid buy-in, where anyone could purchase health insurance through the Maine program; controlling prescription drug costs, including purchasing generic drugs through Civica Rx, a new non-profit that will soon produce widely used drugs that are in short supply; and revising Maine’s reinsurance program to make it less complex and more efficient. 


    What is your position on the proposed 145-mile Central Maine Power transmission line that the company hopes to build from Quebec, through Beattie Township, and the expansion of 92 miles of existing corridor to Lewiston, and another 26.5 miles from Windsor to Wiscasset?

    The State of Maine will benefit very little from CMP’s New England Clean Energy Connect transmission project: most of the benefits will flow to Massachusetts. In fact, CMP will fund $50 million in energy assistance programs for low-income residents of Massachusetts in order to build this line. If Maine were to agree to this project, we should ensure that all Mainers see levels of benefit proportionate to what Massachusetts will receive, and not merely modest revenue increases in one or two areas. We should also insist that the beauty of the Kennebec Gorge be preserved and that other projects that benefit Maine residents be established. 


    Two young Maine children were killed under horrific circumstances in 2017. How would you improve the caliber of DHHS, specifically child protective services? 

    Effectively, all agencies of DHHS are understaffed and overworked. These agencies, including Child Protective Services, need to be adequately funded so they can work with families before violence occurs and before families are lost. And the silos around the various agencies should be dismantled so they can function more effectively with each other. The Legislature should insist that DHHS closely examine what services are being provided, what services need to be provided, and the best and most cost-effective ways to provide these services. Rather than just reconstitute programs that have languished for so many years without appropriate leadership or adequate funding, the Legislature should seriously examine how to re-build DHHS into an agency that protects all Maine residents.


    What committees would you like to serve on and why?

    I would like to join the Appropriations & Financial Affairs Committee. This committee brings together the issues of policy and funding and tries to balance the needs and demands of Maine residents with the financial realities of what they are willing to spend. This committee requires extensive time commitments and if assigned to this committee, it would be the only one on which I’d serve.

    An alternative would be both the Marine Resources Committee, which has a large impact on the residents of District 92, and the Labor, Commerce, Research and Economic Development Committee, which can have a positive influence on employment, business, housing and economic development across the state.


    Maine’s economy relies on small and micro-businesses. How will you help the entrepreneur succeed in this state?

    I support expanding broadband throughout the State of Maine, which will provide a strong linchpin for small businesses that want to stay local and need access to highspeed internet services to stay competitive. I support funding our state universities, community colleges and other education facilities that provide economic development opportunities, skills development and leadership training to give future entrepreneurs the backgrounds they will need to succeed. I support local programs and non-profits that have created business incubators to provide needed mentoring and professional feedback to those first starting up their business and as they scale up. 


    Does Maine have enough mental health care resources? If not, what needs to improve and how?

    Maine lacks a network of well-integrated services that can assist individuals and families with mental health issues, including substance use and recovery. We also lack sufficient residential programs where folks can get the intensive services they need. There are non-profit agencies around the state that provide these services, but areas such as Knox County do not have adequate providers to meet the needs of our residents. Knox County does have a providers’ network, where agencies and non-profits meet to understand what other programs are doing and how they can work together. More networks like this should be encouraged, along with greater communication and collaboration. The state should also be funding mental health services to a greater extent. Many non-profits in the mental health area are underfunded and at risk of closing. Being able to pay highly-trained staff for the demanding work that needs to be done is critical to maintaining services for folks who need them. 


    What is your vision for affordable health care?

    An affordable health care program in Maine should be available and accessible to all. It should preserve pre-existing condition exclusion limitations, essential health benefits and community rating; regulate association and short-term medical plans; and provide enrollment assistance to make up for reduction in federal funds. It should address high out-of-pocket expenses such as high deductibles, high coinsurance levels and high prescription drug costs. And it should be easy for any Mainer to enroll and obtain coverage.


    Maine has built up a fiscal surplus. How should it be used?

    This surplus came about because Maine has not been spending funds in areas where it should be and in areas where it said it would. From failing to hire public health nurses and gutting public health partnerships to allowing schools and infrastructure to languish by not allocating appropriate levels of funding for repairs and replacement, we have been slowly allowing our services, roads, bridges and safety net systems to deteriorate to the point where they are barely functioning. The Legislature should evaluate the services that have been starved of funds and, using some of the “rainy day” money, support programs that provide the services our residents need. 


    What are your positions on the following November ballot questions?

    Question 1: “Do you want to create the Universal Home Care Program to provide home-based assistance to people with disabilities and senior citizens, regardless of income, funded by a new 3.8% tax on individuals and families with Maine wage and adjusted gross income above the amount subject to Social Security taxes, which is $128,400 in 2018?"

    While the goals of this ballot question are laudable, I am skeptical about creating a stand-alone trust fund that is not integrated into the Department of Health & Human Services. Establishing a new agency is expensive and redundant; not collaborating with other agencies in the implementation of this program is not cost-effective. There should be a better way to provide in-home care to our seniors and to those with disabilities. I will be voting no on this bond issue.

    Question 2: “Do you favor a $30,000,000 bond issue to improve water quality, support the planning and construction of wastewater treatment facilities and assist homeowners whose homes are served by substandard or malfunctioning wastewater treatment systems?”

    Municipal wastewater treatment facilities are in disrepair and in need of very expensive upgrades and improvements. This funding will allow these facilities to be upgraded and hopefully prevent disasters such as systems failures from occurring. I will be voting yes on this bond issue.

    Question 3: “Do you favor a $106,000,000 bond issue, including $101,000,000 for construction, reconstruction and rehabilitation of highways and bridges and for facilities and equipment related to ports, piers, harbors, marine transportation, freight and passenger railroads, aviation, transit and bicycle and pedestrian trails, to be used to match an estimated $137,000,000 in federal and other funds, and $5,000,000 for the upgrade of municipal culverts at stream crossings?”

    The Legislature should develop a long-term funding program for handling the repair and rehabilitation of our roads and bridges. Relying on bonding every few years is not the best way to meet on-going obligations. Until that time, however, we need to invest in our roads and draw down federal funding to make travel in Maine as safe as possible. I will reluctantly vote yes on this bond issue.

    Question 4: “Do you favor a $49,000,000 bond issue to be matched by at least $49,000,000 in private and public funds to modernize and improve the facilities and infrastructure of Maine's public universities in order to expand workforce development capacity and to attract and retain students to strengthen Maine's economy and future workforce?”

    This bond will allow the university system to develop programs that are specific to the needs of Maine students. Most importantly, it will provide funding for building both a bachelor’s degree nursing program and the classrooms and labs were students will be taught. Maine is about to lose many of its most skilled and experienced nurses through retirement. We need to begin work immediately to fill those nursing jobs with more skilled and experienced nurses. I will be voting yes on this bond issue.

    Question 5: “Do you favor a $15,000,000 bond issue to improve educational programs by upgrading facilities at all 7 of Maine's community colleges in order to provide Maine people with access to high-skill, low-cost technical and career education?”

    “The primary goals of the (Maine Community College) System are to create an educated, skilled and adaptable labor force which is responsive to the changing needs of the economy of the State and to promote local, regional and statewide economic development.” This bond will provide needed funds to maintain what has become a vital link in Maine’s educational system. I will be voting yes on this bond issue.


    Please feel free to expand or add any thoughts here that we have not touched upon.

    The State of Maine has been without an educational leader for eight years. For too long, our education system has been on auto-pilot as first one person, then another, steps into and then away from this job. The next governor should appoint a Commissioner of Education who can be a leader in education for the state. We need a professional, someone who will be a spokesperson and cheerleader for our children, our teachers, and our schools. Appropriate funding of our public schools, K-12, is one area that touches on so many of the topics above. We need to have the right person in Augusta who can once again put Maine schools at the forefront of education in this country.