Highlights from Governor John E. Baldacci’s State of the State address, January 9, 2008

Gov. Baldacci of Maine during the State of the State address, 2008 photo by Ramona du Houx

photos by Ramona du Houx

We come together tonight as Maine stands on the verge of a new era. The choices we make in the coming days will help to define who we are as a state and what we hope to become ...

The national economy is struggling under the weight of declining home values. State revenues are not immune from the national condition and are falling short of expectations by $95 million dollars. We are forced to make hard decisions and set priorities ...

In the five years since I first addressed you as governor, much has changed in Maine. Today I am proud to say that we are better prepared and more able to weather economic storms ...

Five years ago, we faced a $1.2 billion dollar budget gap. Our financial reserves were gone. The State was borrowing hundreds of millions of dollars just to keep the lights on. Our credit rating was headed down. Those days are gone — hopefully banished forever.

Today, we have rebuilt our reserves to almost $160 million dollars, and no longer take out payday loans to keep government open. We have closed that budget gap and by the end of next year we will have invested more than $1 billion new State dollars in local education. And we have done it all without raising the sales tax or income tax ...

It has put us in a position of strength to deal with a fickle national economy. Tonight, standing before you and with full knowledge of the challenges we face, I report that the state of this state is strong and determined to meet the future head on. The revenue downturn we face in the two-year budget is a serious challenge that demands action ...Gov. Baldacci greets legislators before his State of the State address. photo by Ramona du Houx

On Dec. 18, I issued an executive order that reduced State spending by $38 million dollars for the rest of this fiscal year. I understand that these decisions touch real lives. The cuts were not easy, but we are moving forward in a way that makes sure that we can protect our most vulnerable citizens while also meeting my constitutional duty.

On that point, according to the Kaiser Foundation, Maine ranks first among the states in Medicaid spending for children, second in Medicaid spending for adults and fifth in Medicaid spending for the disabled. Overall, according to Kaiser, Maine spends more per Medicaid enrollee than any other state ...

We will not pull the safety net out from under our most vulnerable citizens. We will not take from our financial reserves to balance the budget. And we will not increase taxes.

If we are to have the resources to invest in higher education, economic development and universal health care, we cannot continue to spend millions on systems built in the 1950s. We must transform government at all levels. We must strengthen it to meet the demands of a new age. And we must prioritize our spending. Government has an important role to play, but it cannot be all things to all people ...

Since taking office in 2003, we have reduced the rolls of State government by more than 600 jobs. We have merged two major State departments, eliminating a commissioner, deputy commissioners, and we have centralized back-office and administrative functions in all State departments. In just the first two years, that saved $11.5 million dollars ...

Last year, the Legislature passed a truly historic reform of local education. The new law reduces the number of school administrative units from 290 to 80 ...

Governor John Baldacci takes a pause in his state of the state speach to Maine photo by Ramona du HouxFor 50 years, we have done the same old thing the same old way, and it hasn’t produced the excellence and results that we need. It’s not sustainable and drains resources from students and teachers ...

In August, we began a conversation about the way we treat inmates in our prisons and county jails and about the financial hardships created by our current, fragmented system. It is bad for taxpayers and bad for mentally ill and drug-addicted prisoners who do not get the care they need to break the cycle of crime. It must change ...

Tomorrow I will submit legislation to unify the state prison system with the 15 county jail administrations. The plan has evolved from when we first began talking about it. We have listened to concerns from counties. And we have made changes to improve our plan ...

We live in a complex world that requires government to carry an increasing load. Natural resource and environmental issues demand experts with broad experiences ...

It’s been more than 30 years since we developed our approach to the stewardship of Maine’s natural resources. In those three decades, the world has changed dramatically. There have been amazing advances in science and technology. And Maine’s natural resource agencies haven’t been allowed to keep up. The structure hasn’t kept up pace with the changing times. Already, we’ve brought together those agencies’ back-office staffs, accountants, and IT experts. We created a single natural resource service center to do all those jobs that aren’t part of the agencies’ core responsibilities. That’s done. But we need to do more. In my budget, I will propose a process that will result in no more than two natural resources agencies, where today we have four ...

Our goal is to enhance the services provided to natural resource-based businesses, to increase outdoor recreation, and to improve natural resource management. We need to end the duplication in administration that stands in the way. Our efforts are not confined to a single area of government. We are looking at government at every level, and we’re looking for improvement ...

I am also proposing a reorganization of the upper and middle management at Health and Human Services that will give my commissioner the flexibility she needs to run Maine’s largest department. It will empower frontline workers, reduce from 10 to 6 the number of central offices in the agency and consolidate management at the regional level ...

Maine has led the country on healthcare reform, an innovation that matters to families and businesses alike. When the federal government passed a poorly designed Medicare drug benefit that actually hurt some senior citizens in our state, Maine stepped forward to ease the transition. When the federal government failed to deliver on affordable health care, Maine stepped forward. We will continue to step forward. In my budget, we will bring together three of the largest purchasers of health care in the state for a new initiative to save taxpayer money and provide better care to consumers. The Maine State Employees Health Commission, the University of Maine System and the Maine Education Association will join forces and put their enormous buying power to work to lower prescription drug costs ...

More than 28,000 Mainers have been insured through our Dirigo Health program. We’ve extended coverage to more families and more small businesses, and we’ve done it in a way that has saved millions of dollars in healthcare spending. Last year, we were close to taking the next step with Dirigo. This year, we’ll do it. I will support legislative efforts to provide meaningful market reform that will make coverage more affordable for individuals. And I will work with the Legislature to find a new way to fund Dirigo that is less contentious and more sustainable.

I believe health care is a fundamental and basic right. Every man, woman and child should be able to count on receiving the care they need when they need it. I am very pleased that the Dirigo Health Agency has contracted with a new partner, Harvard Pilgrim Health ...

Harvard Pilgrim is a nonprofit health plan that is consistently ranked No. 1 by consumers nationally. The company brings new and important competition to Maine’s healthcare marketplace ...

I have met countless men and women who play by the rules, go to work everyday, and still can’t seem to get ahead ...

Gov. Baldacci of Maine during the State of the State address, 2008 photo by Ramona du HouxI know families and businesses are struggling with high energy costs. I have talked to the truck drivers and small-business owners who are being pushed to the brink. And I have heard the call for help. We will answer that call. My administration began working on this problem when the weather was still warm and before oil topped out at $100 dollar a barrel. Working with the United Way, Eastern Maine Funders, and the Maine Community Action agencies, the Keep Maine Warm Fund has raised more than $1 million dollars to provide emergency fuel assistance. The effort is gaining momentum. I am pleased to announce tonight that L.L. Bean will be making a contribution of $250,000 to the Keep Maine Warm Fund, joining such organizations as Irving Oil, the Libra Foundation, the Fisher Foundation, Wright Express, Maine Bank and Trust, and TD Banknorth ...

I know not everyone is able, but I’d ask those of you who can to join the effort to Keep Maine Warm by making a charitable contribution to this very worthy cause.

Working closely with Maine’s congressional delegation, we will continue to put pressure on Washington to release funding for energy assistance. The money’s there, and we need to put it to work.

I have signed an executive order making it easier for companies to make small fuel deliveries to families in need. I have sought relief for truck drivers devastated by high diesel costs. During this session, I will submit legislation to help safeguard the forest products industry, which has been particularly hard hit and is so important to our rural economy ...

Gov. Baldacci of Maine during the State of the State address, 2008 photo by Ramona du HouxFor too long, our country and our state have been dependent on costly foreign oil ...

We have made great strides in the development of wind energy. We cannot be shy about new projects. We will rewrite the rulebook to make wind-power development easier without compromising our environment ...

And we are also working closely with Maine’s Native American tribes to support and promote alternative energy projects.

The future rests within reach, and we must seize it.

Tonight, I am announcing a "Wood-to-Energy Initiative" to bring Maine-made sources of heat to the homes and businesses of Maine. This partnership will bring together the public and private sectors to explore what is possible and what is practical ...

As a first step in this initiative, my administration will pursue a transition to biofuels such as wood pellets and wood chips. We will identify those state buildings where conversion to wood pellets, wind, or other renewable sources of energy can reduce costs by 30 to 50 percent. This not only saves money for Maine taxpayers, it generates the investment and business activity to grow Maine’s economy . . .

We are already working on a collaborative effort with New Brunswick and Nova Scotia that will take stock in our natural resources and develop new technologies and new market opportunities. We should look to our Canadian neighbors for new partnerships that can reduce the cost of electricity in Maine and help us to better understand the energy potential of our forests. In this energy crisis, we will develop renewable sources of energy made in Maine, by Maine businesses, for Maine people ...

Through our workforce training initiatives, investments in research and development, and Pine Tree Economic Development Zones, we want to enhance the power of the private sector to create good jobs with good benefits. Between November 2006 and November 2007, Maine’s economy created 4,400 new jobs despite slow growth in New England and nationally. Since 2003, Maine’s economy has created more than 24,000 new jobs. Our incomes have grown. And we’ve empowered our people to become entrepreneurs. According to the Kauffman Foundation, Maine ranked in the top five in 2006 for people who, for the first time, started their own new businesses. This is the spirit of Maine.

In November, voters approved a $55 million dollar investment that will help those entrepreneurs develop new ideas and bring them to the market. It’s the kind of investment that turns good ideas into good jobsGov. Baldacci of Maine during the State of the State address, 2008 photo by Ramona du Houx

I’ve asked my economic development Commissioner John Richardson and Maine State Chamber of Commerce President Dana Connors to work with the Legislature to change the way we do business for business. We can better serve Maine’s business community with a local and regional emphasis and greater coordination and partnership. We need to move our economic development efforts away from Augusta and into the communities and regions where it can do the most good. The State’s top economic development priority should be to provide them with the support, resources, and vision to help them accomplish their goals. We all understand the Maine economy is in a time of dramatic, even historic, change ...

Economic prosperity demands that we invest in our workforce, in our open landscapes, and in our historic downtowns. Even now, we cannot become so focused on today that we sacrifice the investments that will make us stronger tomorrow ...

That’s why I am supporting an historic rehabilitation tax credit. For a modest investment, we can attract millions of dollars worth of growth, which will bring new jobs, new revenues, affordable housing and new life to our cities and towns.

It’s my goal that children start school ready to learn, and graduate from college ready and able to succeed here in Maine. Early childhood was the heart of my economic summit held in November. More than 200 Maine business and community leaders came together to understand the positive economic returns from early childhood investments. I will continue to work with those Mainers to transform the Children’s Cabinet Task Force on Early Childhood into a Children’s Growth Council ...

We are streamlining government and cutting administration. And we’re controlling spending. We are investing in education and innovation, so our children and families can succeed here in our state. We are helping increase incomes by creating good jobs with good benefits. That’s the roadmap that gets Maine where it needs to be.

This year, the Legislature will be called upon to take bold action, to protect the gains that have been made and to push forward on the reforms that will guide State government into the future.

— Governor John E. Baldacci, Jan 9, 2008

Gov. Baldacci recieves congrats from legislators after the State of the State address. photo by Ramona du Houx