As Senator for District 29, Dave Burns is most proud of the $880 million shortfall that legislature was able to overcome with the $6.3 billion biennial budget and the $484 million in hospital debt that LePage ceremoniously started paying off this last week.
“I'm sorry it took so long for this settlement to be paid,” Burns said to the Machias Rotary Club last Tuesday. The revenue for this payback comes from bonds from the state liquor contract.
The biennial budget that was passed did include a 10% sales tax increase, which Burns says he did not vote for. Burns was also pleased with the omnibous energy bill that passed, which started as a stew of 12 different bills and was eventually rolled into one. Burns vaguely explained the bill as reducing the cost of energy, cut greenhouse gas emissions, providing money for insulation and increase natural gas capacities in the state.
“It's good for part of the state, but doesn't help us much in Washington County,” he said.
As a committee member on the Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Committee, some highlights of the last session for Burns and Washington County was the passing of LD 72, which allows the full passage of alewives in the St. Croix, something that hasn't happened since 1990. Also, LD 604, which will deter illegal activity in the elver fishery by imposing a mandatory fine of $2,000 and labeling violations as a criminal offense.
“There were a lot of violations and a lot of issues,” Burns said of last spring's harvest. “There is a lot of money to be made in this industry, and hopefully this will cut back on the shenanigans.”
The instilling of a statewide seaweed management plan was also a positive for Burns. “There's good parameters for a sustainable harvest. Anything having to do with fisheries is important for Washington County,” he said.
With gun rights issues flaring up during the last session, Burns said that he believes there was positive legislation regarding second amendment rights. One of those was the emergency legislation against the Bangor Daily News accessing concealed weapon records. These records will remain confidential, said Burns, however statistical data on concealed weapons carriers will be open to the public.
Burns also voted against the very controversial issue of the expansion of Medicaid. Spurring the conversation, Wayne Peters brought up the point that even an able-bodied working person in Washington County who makes $10/hour only makes $20,000/year, while healthcare policies cost at least $14,000/year.
“This leaves them at the mercy of having no primary care and showing up at the hospital with emergency dental issues. Now they're using the most expensive form of the worst care,” Peters said.
Burns rebutted, saying that since 2002, the number of people on Medicaid has gone from 200,000 to 320,000, meanwhile 3100 people who are in critical condition sit on waiting lists for care.
“We can't take care of them because Mainecare is taking 25% of our budget,” said Burns. “My solution is to provide education and job opportunities so that they can afford their care, just like you and I.”
“So you're going to make the hospitals eat it and be in the red,” said Peters.
“You tell me where we're going to get the money?” Burns asked.
Burns also touched on the FreeME program, which has proposed to eliminate personal and income sales tax in the rim counties of the state, starting with the poorest. Washington County generates less in income tax than it gets back from the state in the form of Medicare.
“If we could reverse that, think of what we could do for economic development in the state,” said Burns. The proposal will be talked about in different forums across the state, and Burns exhibited support for the idea.
Important to folks in the audience was to create opportunities for local people, which could provide layers of jobs with the opportunity to work up a ladder.
“We need to train for that which we want to do,” said Burns.