John Piotti thinks the state of Maine is at a “critical place,” and he feels he has some things to offer — particularly with regard to two of his passions, agriculture and economic development.

Piotti, who is completing his fourth term in the Legislature representing House District 45, is the Democratic nominee for the state Senate District 23 seat, which encompasses all of Waldo County. His Republican opponent is Mike Thibodeau of Winterport.

John Piotti

Town of residence: Unity

Party affiliation: Democrat

Occupation: Executive director, Maine Farmland Trust

Previous elective or appointive office: Four terms in Maine House of Representatives, chairman of Planning Board and comprehensive plan committee in Unity

Clean elections candidate: Yes

Some of the biggest issues facing the next Legislature, Piotti said, will be balancing the budget and addressing jobs and the economy. He said balancing the budget would happen because it was required by law to happen, but that creating new jobs would take “additional creativity and persistence.”

Maine has many strengths, Piotti said — hardworking people who live in communities that are self-supporting in many ways, and that have a high quality of place — but economic development strategies sometimes don’t do enough to promote those strengths. The state should help develop businesses that reinforce that quality of place, Piotti said, and he offered farming as an example.

“It’s literally rooted here,” he said. “It reinforces the quality of place.”

Piotti said to help encourage businesses of all kinds to grow, some regulations should be streamlined. He said he wouldn’t want to back off of any permitting requirements, but allowed that the length of time before permits are approved can sometimes be excessive.

“Regulations at the bureaucratic level are sometimes done with a higher level of rigidity than they should be, or than they were intended to be,” he said.

A strong proponent of a tax reform plan that was approved by the Legislature but overturned by voters earlier this year, Piotti said the present tax structure remained an impediment to business and should be addressed. He said he was not sure tax reform would be addressed by legislators in the next session, though.

With regard to the state budget, Piotti said, “everything is on the table.” Although he said he had no specific targets for cuts, he believes the biggest state agencies — the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Education — are the ones that should be looked at first, because “that’s where the money is.” He said he believed both departments were administratively top-heavy.

“I believe strongly that we can balance the budget without any increase in taxes or fees,” said Piotti.

The most recent state budget was a product of compromise, which Piotti said meant there was “something in it for everyone to hate.” He said recent budgets had featured cuts to meet an immediate goal — balancing the budget — without looking at the bigger picture. He said during his time as a legislator, the Baldacci administration had presented budgets that, “while fiscally responsible, have not been forward-looking.”

“With a recession, we’ll always be in a place like we are now with the current budget — until we step back and really reformulate our revenue collection system, and what we make for spending decisions,” said Piotti.

On the subject of how public education in Maine is paid for, Piotti said it did not make sense to have the bulk of education funding coming from local property taxes. He said the state should be picking up more of the tab, and that it was not just a matter of reaching the often-cited 55 percent funding figure — that it is instead a matter of “really rethinking the whole system.”

He cited Michigan as an example of a state that had taken some “pretty drastic steps” with regard to how it funds education. In 1994, Michigan voters approved a measure known as Proposal A, which made changes to the state’s tax structure in order to reduce the amount of property taxes going toward education. According to the Michigan Policy Network Web site, 57 percent of education funding came from local property taxes prior to Proposal A’s approval, and after it became law the figure dropped to about 35 percent.

“In Maine, it might involve a restructuring of the tax system in a way that could be more fair to Maine people by lowering the burden on Maine residents and at the same time, supply more funding to education from other sources than from property tax,” Piotti said.

On the subject of health care, Piotti said Maine was in the midst of a “health-care crisis.” He said the solution could not come from Maine alone, and he said the state’s experience with Dirigo Health — which he characterized as “an experiment that did not work” — had convinced him Maine would have to work with other states, or the federal government, to come up with a better solution.

Piotti said in concept Dirigo Health made sense. He said from what he had learned, though, there were not enough people who signed up for the program. Then its funding was cut, and then premiums increased to the point where they were no longer a good deal. By that point, Piotti said, the political battle lines were drawn on the issue.

When asked about the issue of industrial-scale wind power in Maine, and how towns should be allowed to respond, Piotti said he was a strong believer in home rule.

“If towns want to make a decision — that either they do not want industrial wind, or that they want stronger regulations than the state has in place, I totally support that action,” he said.

Piotti said he believed there had been a number of legitimate concerns — some economic, others environmental — raised about industrial-scale wind power. He said all forms of alternative energy should be explored, and that he saw more promise in tidal and solar power than he did in wind energy.

On the subject of government assistance programs for people in need, Piotti said he would like to see the ranks of beneficiaries made smaller by creating jobs for current recipients that would make it so they no longer required a helping hand.

“We need to improve the economy so we have fewer people needing assistance,” he said.

Piotti said that while there were abuses in the current system, and it does need reform, he felt some people had taken individual examples of abuse and unfairly applied them to the whole system.

Piotti said he was proud of his eight years serving in the House, and said he felt he had been able to advance “important pieces of legislation that have made real differences for Maine people.” Among these, Piotti said, were several bills focused on the dairy industry, and others relating to animal welfare and the effort to preserve Katahdin Lake.

“I hope the people of Waldo County see that we send people to Augusta to make a difference,” said Piotti, who added that he felt he had worked hard to accomplish something.

“Everything I do may not rest well with everybody, but I’ve tried very hard to move the state of Maine forward.”