Media Archive

Sharon Libby Jones says tax reform tops on her agenda in election bid

Article from The Piscataquis Observer, Vol. 164, No. 44, October 30, 2002

By Jessica Lee
Staff Writer

District 111

When Gov. Angus King came to Piscataquis County in 1996 he told residents that he would work to improve life in this part of Maine as long as those who lived here took the first steps. That simple challenge was
enough to pursuade Sharon Libby Jones, then a small business owner from Greenville, to run for public office.

Now six years and two House terms later, the Greenville Democrat has gained a firm grasp of the issues facing Piscataquis County and Maine in general. She understands the uphill climb facing this especially rural section of the state, where a once-thriving manufacturing industry is losing jobs and towns are struggling with
falling populations and rising costs.

While Jones has found the legislative process to be slower and more complex than she imagined, neither
the frustrating molasses-flow of governmental progress nor the uncertain local economy have tempered her
enthusiasm for Piscataquis County. In fact, the positive developments she has seen, and in some cases nurtured, over the past few years have her looking ahead to a future full of growth and constructive change as
she runs for reelection against Republican challenger Earl Richardson.

Considering the region's resources and work ethic, Jones says, "I can honestly say that the county is on the
right track."

The train analogy is a fitting one for Jones, who has made the implementation of a comprehensive rail policy a pet project. She sponsored legislation to create a commission to study evaluate current transportation
policy, and develop a statewide rail transportation policy and plan. She feels a solid rail system is integral to
northern Maine, and that increased access and communication between Maine and the Canadian provinces is crucial to building a strong, balanced regional economy.

Top on Jones's agenda, though, is tax reform. She feels the issue has been studied to death, by more com-
mittees and task forces than can be named, and that it is absolutely critical that this next legislature act. She
voted in the last session to send a tax reform referendum to the voters, but that bill failed.

"I am firmly committed to having the whole tax system changed, and we can't keep talking about it," says
Jones. "We have to be courageous enough to realize we cannot continue with the burdens we are placing on

Lawmakers should start by fully funding K-12 education throughout the state, says Jones, and the personal property tax needs to be thoroughly examined. Low federal reimbursements for things like transportation
funds, rail costs, and special education are also burdening the Maine economy, she says. Waste at the state
level must also shoulder some of the blame for high taxes.

"We have to think seriously how you can downsize government by making government more efficient and perhaps combining some of those departments down there so you do not have duplication of effort," Jones says.

Jones says she has found Maine to be lacking in long-term policy, which has allowed the tax structure to fall
into disarray as the legislature has attempted to implement tax reform in a piecemeal fashion. "We have band-aided this system to the point it is so broken it is bleeding," she says, calling for a complete reexamination of each facet of what she says is an out-of-date tax code.

From her spot as the House chair and sponsor of legislation that formed a committee to study the changing uses of Maine's forests, Jones is pleased to have ushered in a couple of bills that will give sporting camps, campgrounds, and others who lease land in the North Woods more stability by mandating that contracts have more consistency, and giving lessees the right to first refusal should the lessor decide to sell.

Jones says that many of the businesses making their money from outdoor activities lease their land from
large corporations. Much of the time,a lessee is not informed of the sale of the land they are leasing until all is said and done, says Jones, leaving those campgrounds and sporting camps that market their businesses a year in advance in a precarious situation. The legislation brought forth by the committee requires a one-year notice of intent to terminate a lease, and also gives lessees-the opportunity to buy their land in the case of a sale.

Jones is also excited by the partnerships being formed between government and private business to place
conservation easements in the North Woods, a development she says should take end the national park
debate while providing Mainers with a working forest still open to recreation activities.

She also applauds the work of groups like the Piscataquis County Economic Development Council (PCEDC), who have been working tirelessly to bring new business opportunities to the area. The creation of a new sawmill in Greenville, along with the proposed wood composites incubator, also show Jones that Piscataquis County is, indeed, on the right track.

NOTE - This article reflects the views of the author and not necessarily those of the TRC Alliance Team.