Lewis “Lew” Baker said the state’s budget problems must be addressed sooner than later, but it cannot be done at the expense of Maine’s already taxed residents.

Baker is running against Erin Herbig, a Democrat from Belfast, in the House District 43 race. House District 43 includes Belfast, Belmont and Northport.

Lew Baker

• Town of residence: Belfast

• Party affiliation: Republican

• Occupation: Semi-retired businessman specializing in auto restoration

• Previous elective or appointive office: Current member of the Belfast City Council, chairman of the SAD 34 Board of Directors, chairman of the Belfast Planning Board, Belfast Zoning Board of Appeals, various city committees.

• Clean elections candidate: Yes

Baker said he decided to run for the Legislature after talking with Belfast Mayor Walter Ash. Ash, who had served in the District 43 House seat during the 122nd legislature, suggested Baker run for the seat since the incumbent, Jayne Giles, R-Belfast, opted not to run again.

The most important issue that Baker sees facing the Legislature is the budget. Having a billion-dollar gap is a serious matter, Baker said, which can only be addressed by making significant cuts or raising more money through taxes.

“I’m not supporting any increase in taxes, we already pay too much,” he said.

One place he said Maine should look for savings is within the Department of Health and Human Services, and in particular, social service programs. The Legislature should see what other states spend on social services, said Baker, and work toward getting spending more in line with what is happening elsewhere.

“We don’t have the resources for a major reorganization, but we should at least bring Maine closer in line with the majority of other states,” he said.

In regard to the state’s need to repay the pension fund for Maine’s retired workers, Baker said the issue must be addressed as soon as possible.

Baker said state law mandates that the fund is to be 100 percent funded by 2028. That seems like a long way off now, said Baker, but that’s no reason to wait until the last minute.

“Every year the state puts it off, it’s going to become even harder,” he said.

On encouraging job growth and attracting new employers, Baker said the first step is to seek out Maine business leaders to learn what policies make Maine an unfavorable place to start a business.

“We need to seek out the people with ideas, and who are educated on these topics,” said Baker.

No one can be expected to have answers for everything, said Baker, and part of being a good legislator is knowing when you need to rely on the expertise of others.

Addressing Maine’s budget shortfall will be a challenge, he said, but it’s a task that must be tackled without increasing taxes. Also, Baker said, he will not support shifting the state’s financial woes to the towns through decreased revenue-sharing.

“We need to look at all departments, all agencies, and cut where it’s least painful,” he said. “The budget gap has got to be closed, and it’s got to be closed without gimmicks.”

Planning for reduced revenues could help avoid a similar problem in the near future, Baker said.

Regarding how Maine should proceed with wind developments or other forms of alternative energy, Baker said the Legislature should approach the issue with Maine businesses in mind.

“The cost of electricity is one of the biggest hurdles for the state of Maine,” he said.

Previous owners of Penobscot Frozen Foods once told Baker that energy costs for the Belfast plant totaled more than $1 million a year, he said.

While wind power is a clean source of energy, Baker said, the equipment can be costly and it can have an adverse affect on the landscape. Baker said a wind farm he once saw in Pennsylvania struck him as unnatural, adding, “it almost looks alien.”

Negotiating with Canada for lower-cost energy, said Baker, could be the answer for the short term. Re-examining the use of hydropower is another option, said Baker.

On education funding, Baker said it was unreasonable to expect the state to fund education at 55 percent, though the state should move closer to that goal.

“We can all agree that education is important, the issue is how much it’s costing,” Baker said.

During his time on the SAD 34 Board of Directors, Baker said he never saw a connection between more spending and a better educational experience for students. What did make the difference, he said, was great teachers and administrators.

Lowering costs could mean increasing class sizes to allow for staff cuts at Maine schools, he said. School consolidation was once thought of as a way to cut administrative costs, but Baker said he had not seen evidence of that and the Legislature must look for more savings.

In terms of what the state has done to make medical care affordable, Baker said Maine should reconsider much of what had been done to that end in recent years.

“We tried with Dirigo [Health], and I think most would agree that it’s been an abysmal failure,” he said, adding that MaineCare is far too costly to continue operating as it presently does.

Baker was also skeptical about how the federal health care reform law might change the situation in Maine. The idea of expanding the pool by forcing younger people into the system, for example, wouldn’t necessarily work, he said.

“Once people get [health insurance], they’re going to use it,” he said.

On the state’s welfare system, Baker said the way social services are used in Maine should be overhauled.

“For the long term, we need to look at the system and get it more focused on getting people back to work. The whole philosophy of welfare needs to be changed,” he said.