Maine's beauty, photo by Ramona du Houx
By Ramona du Houx
The Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee and the Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry Committee held a joint public hearing on March 10,2017 on portions of Gov. Paul LePage’s budget proposal that would outsource two dozen jobs at Maine’s state parks and eliminate management positions involved in overseeing historic sites or public lands.
The proposal would not save the state any money and would merely shift funding to private contractors. Private companies have no moral incentives to maintain public lands as state workers have to under Maine's Constitution.
“This state’s best assets - our people, our natural resources, our quality of life and place - are exactly what Mainers and our many, many visitors value about our state parks,” said Speaker of the House Sara Gideon. “Our friendly, knowledgeable and hard-working rangers are part of what makes the experience so special. This proposal is yet another example of a shortsighted vision that neither saves the taxpayers money nor effectively stewards one of our key economic assets.”
Maine’s more than 50 state parks and historic sites reported nearly 2.9 million visitors in 2016, setting an attendance record for the second straight year.
But under the LePage Administration, Mainers are paying more to use their state parks. The price of an annual park pass rose 50 percent this year, from $70 to $105, the first increase since 2002.
In addition since the consolidation of the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Conservation in 2012, the LePage administration has cut the number of staffers throughout the new, larger agency. In some cases, state workers are doing more but not being compensated properly for the extra work. While in other departments - the work isn't getting done.
“Mainers are paying more, yet the department is forced to do less and less. Key positions are going unfilled and services are being eroded,” said Michelle Dunphy, Chair of the Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry Committee. “It’s only a matter of time before our iconic Maine brand is damaged as a result. Democrats are focused on conservation policies that result in a stronger, more vibrant economy. ”
The Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee has now ended its joint committee public hearings. Next week, they will start receiving report backs from the policy committees and hold public hearings on legislation not related to the budget.