Mike Thibodeau said he saw public service not as a career, but rather as a chance for an individual to get involved because they think they can make a difference.

In Thibodeau’s case, he said as a small-business owner he felt he offered a perspective he saw as lacking in Augusta — that of a businessman.

“I understand what it’s like to sign both sides of a paycheck,” he said. “When it comes to small businesses, I understand how they’re impacted [by legislation].”

Thibodeau, a two-term House member, is the Republican nominee for the state Senate District 23 seat, which encompasses all of Waldo County. His Democratic opponent is John Piotti of Unity.

Mike Thibodeau

Town of residence: Winterport

Party affiliation: Republican

Occupation: Small-business owner

Previous elective or appointive office: Two terms in Maine House of Representatives; former Winterport Town Council member

Clean elections candidate: Yes

Looking ahead to the next legislative session, Thibodeau said the biggest issue facing legislators would be the state budget — in particular, how to close the projected $1 billion revenue shortfall. Thibodeau said the answer could not involve increased taxes or expanded fees.

“We can’t take more money out of peoples’ budgets,” he said.

The solution, Thibodeau said, will require a discussion about what the essential functions of government are. Once that has been settled, he said, it’s simply a matter of doing those things and doing them well.

One state-run program Thibodeau has stated he does not feel is an essential function of government is the energy-efficiency program Efficiency Maine. While acknowledging that the program is largely funded through assessments on peoples’ electric bills, Thibodeau said the program was problematic.

Describing Efficiency Maine as a program that, in part, helps people buy lightbulbs — the program, in cooperation with retailers, offers rebates on a wide range of energy-efficient lighting products — Thibodeau said the program stood in contrast to his belief that government’s role was to do collectively what people couldn’t do on their own.

“We can all buy our own lightbulbs,” he said. “If we were flush with cash, and wanted to be all things to all people, that would be another situation entirely.”

Another sore spot for Thibodeau is LD 1786, “An Act Regarding Energy Infrastructure Development,” a bill passed by the Legislature in April which establishes energy corridors along Interstates 95 and 295, as well as along the corridor from Searsport to the former Loring Air Force Base in northern Maine.

Thibodeau said the corridors, which would be used to transport power generated in the Canadian Maritime provinces through Maine and on to points south, are valuable assets with the potential to generate hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue. What bothers Thibodeau about the bill is that it stipulates that 80 percent of any revenues must be directed to the Efficiency Maine Trust Fund, with the remaining 20 percent going to the Department of Transportation.

“The potential revenue from the transmission corridor seemed like an appropriate way to help fund the transportation budget,” said Thibodeau, who said he had suggested a 50/50 split between the trust fund and DOT. Of those who championed sending more money to the trust fund, Thibodeau said, “They think having Efficiency Maine is more important than taking care of rural roads.

According to a copy of the bill posted on the Maine state Web site, the 20 percent that would go to the DOT “must be used by the department to increase the energy-efficiency of or reduce reliance on fossil fuels within the transportation system within the state.” The bill offers rail, public transportation and car pooling as examples.

Turning to a different aspect of the energy discussion in Maine, Thibodeau said he supported local control when it came to towns dealing with industrial-scale wind projects. Thibodeau said he believed the Baldacci administration had been too focused on wind power, which Thibodeau said was problematic, because of the intermittent nature of the wind resource.

Thibodeau said other forms of alternative energy, such as tidal energy, should be explored further and given additional support. He said while he thinks it’s fine for people to have small-scale solar energy projects for their own homes or businesses, he does not see commercial solar power as a cost-effective option.

The dilemma of what to do about funding the state’s pension system, Thibodeau said, represents a problem that “is real, and it’s looming.” He said the state must be sure to meet its obligations to current retirees, and that it must start budgeting enough money over a number of years to meet those obligations. The problem, he said, cannot be solved all at once.

On the subject of funding public education in Maine, Thibodeau said the state should meet the voter-mandated obligation of funding 55 percent of the cost to towns. He said the state also should stop passing along mandates, such as some reporting requirements, to schools.

Health-care reform is another issue the Legislature must address, in Thibodeau’s opinion, particularly because he sees businesses being directly — and negatively — affected by the current high costs of health care. Thibodeau blames the current situation on a lack of competition among health insurance providers, and said he strongly supports efforts to allow people in Maine to purchase insurance across state lines.

With regard to Dirigo Health, Thibodeau offered his opinion in no uncertain terms — it is, he said, “a failure” and a “money pit for the state of Maine.”

“Even Democrats aren’t defending it anymore,” he said.

If health-care costs could be reduced, that would be a benefit to businesses, Thibodeau said. Other impediments to businesses’ either expanding in or relocating to Maine, he said, include excessive bureaucracy, red tape and the state’s current tax structure.

“There is no one silver bullet [for job creation],” he said. “A lot of that comes down to attitude.”

With regard to government assistance programs for those in need, Thibodeau characterized Maine’s assistance programs as among the most generous in the nation and said the state should aim to be closer to the national average.

One way to do that, Thibodeau said, would be to institute a residency requirement for people receiving benefits. He said in a survey he mailed to his constituents, about 90 percent of respondents supported exploring that option.

That, however, may be easier said than done. In a letter to Department of Health and Human Services Commissioner Brenda Harvey, dated Oct. 25, after VillageSoup had interviewed Thibodeau, Maine Attorney General Janet Mills weighed in on such residency requirements.

“It is well settled law that people receiving assistance from a state may be required to provide proof of residency, but that no state may impose a minimum period during which an individual must reside in the state before becoming eligible for assistance,” Mills wrote in the letter to Harvey.

Harvey had asked Mills for the “constitutionality of proposals for a durational residency requirement” for certain government assistance programs, including Temporary Aid to Needy Families and Medicaid. In her statement, Mills cited several U.S. Supreme Court cases as evidence for her opinion.

Aside from the residency requirement issue, Thibodeau said Maine must do a better job of distinguishing between those who are truly in need — those who cannot get by without assistance — and those who rely on government assistance programs, but are not truly in need.

“We’re spending too much,” he said. “How many people have to go to work in the morning to pick up that tab?”