Maine Gubernatorial Candidates Address Funding Issues
Four of the five candidates for governor have pledged to support a Constitutional amendment that would provide a guaranteed source of public funding to Maine’s Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife.
The Nature Conservancy, Maine Audubon, and the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine have developed a proposal that would establish a permanent fix for IF&W’s long-standing financial problems: a ballot initiative that would provide an on-going revenue stream of public funding for IF&W, protected by the Constitution. The revenue stream would be based on a percentage of the sales tax on outdoor gear.
To be enacted, the proposal requires the support of two-thirds of the House and Senate and a vote of the people in a statewide referendum. So the initiative is only in the very first stage, with a long road ahead. But the endorsement and support of Maine’s next governor would give the proposal a very significant boost.
Republican Paul LePage and Democrat Libby Mitchell both pledged to support this initiative in their SAM PAC survey, as did independent candidates Shawn Moody and Kevin Scott. All four gubernatorial candidates also pledged to submit a budget that funds at least 20 percent of IF&W’s budget with General Fund tax money and backed that up by promising to oppose any budget that failed to do so.
These are amazing commitments given that fact the next governor and legislature may face a budget deficit of $1 billion.
In the current fiscal year that began on July 1, IF&W is scheduled to receive only $27,000 of public tax money to support its $48 million budget. Sportsmen are paying all of the bills.
Independent gubernatorial candidate Eliot Cutler was more circumspect in his responses on the SAM PAC survey. Here is what he said, in response to all of the IF&W funding questions.
“The next governor is going to be confronted with massive budget shortfalls, so I have not and will not make any promises to any group about funding levels. That said, I recognize the important work of the IF&W and how that work benefits the general public.
“I don’t believe in across-the-board cuts and I have said many times in this campaign that I want to invest in Maine’s competitive advantages. Our natural environment and our fish and wildlife are key assets for our state, and we must invest in them to protect our quality of life and to attract sportsmen and other visitors.
“So while I cannot in good conscience commit to any specific level or minimum amount of funding, I can assure you that I intend to spend our hard-earned tax dollars strategically to adequately fund those departments and programs that enhance Maine’s competitive advantages and to cut programs that neither operate efficiently nor provide an adequate return to Maine people,” concluded Cutler.
Here’s a look at the candidates’ answers to other questions on the SAM PAC survey:
SAM asked the following question: “Coyote predation on adult deer limits the ability of wildlife managers to rebuild the deer herd in northern Maine. Recently a IF&W Deer Task Force – created at the direction of the legislature - recommended a comprehensive approach to limiting deer predation, including reactivation of the department’s animal damage control program with intensified coyote harvests around wintering yards from December through March and in coyote denning areas from March to July. Do you support this recommendation? “
All five candidates said yes, an indication that the next administration may be more supportive of an aggressive campaign to limit coyote predation than has the current administration.
Many sportsmen have been asking what we can expect in the way of a new IF&W commissioner. SAM asked the question this way: “What skills, experience, and knowledge will you be looking for in the people you select for the positions at IF&W that are appointed by the Governor?”
Paul LePage said, “Someone with knowledge, experience in managing natural resources, such as forest, water, hunting and fishing. Demonstrated skills in leadership and ability to see the big picture.”
Libby Mitchell responded, “Managerial experience, educational background, science-based knowledge, personal experience in outdoor pursuits, and character.”
Eliot Cutler replied, “ Substantive knowledge in areas such as wildlife management, biology, and other relevant disciplines. Strong management and people skills. A demonstrated history of innovation and an understanding of the importance of marketing and branding.”
Shawn Moody’s response was, “In considering persons for positions in IF&W, I will consider people whose backgrounds, training, and experience will make a sound professional contribution to the goals of outdoor recreation, wildlife enhancement, and that will interface with the interest groups common to the Department, the public, and the legislature.”
Kevin Scott said he’d be looking for “Outdoor skills and leadership combined, free market small business skills, and financial management and negotiation skills.”
Another question asked, “Will you appoint professionals to IF&W’s top positions, rather than people from the political system?”
LePage and Scott answered with a simple yes.
Mitchell said, “All my people will be professional and highly qualified for the job regardless of their public service experience. I will rely on my team of experts in this area to help me select the right people for the jobs.”
Cutler offered the most extensive remarks: “I will appoint the most qualified people I can find to top positions in IF&W and other state agencies. Experience, competence, substantive knowledge, vision and courage will be my top criteria. As an Independent, political affiliations are irrelevant to me. I don’t have any political cronies. I will conduct national searches for top positions if we can’t find the right people here in Maine, and I will certainly seek the counsel of groups like SAM in making appointments.”
Moody provided the same answer as he offered in the question above.
Next week we’ll offer insight into the candidates’ positions on key recreational fishing issues, Sunday hunting, and Maine’s faltering outdoor economy.