Rebecca Wyke and Ryan Low discuss budget issues. Both have been instrumental in achieving Maine’s financial security. Photo by Ramona du Houx
Editorial by Ramona du Houx
A long-awaited spring has come with summer at its heals. It’s a great time of renewal, a time to reflect and plan for the future. That can be a challenge during economic hard times. The people of Maine are incredibly resilient, hard working, creative, and spirited. I met a trucker the other day who had to change his business because he was loosing money trucking wood at today’s inflated diesel prices. Now he buys old cars that he scouts out all over Maine for scrap. “I love being independent, so you get creative when you need to,” he said. Maine’s innovative spirit always shines. Still, people need a helping hand and the 123rd Legislature passed important laws that will create jobs, right now, all over the state.
They say when the economy is on a downturn for the rest of the nation, Maine still gets by. On the flip side of that coin, when the nation is prospering the state doesn’t get to share as much in that windfall. As Maine transitions more into the an economy based on knowledge, technology, and talent, incomes will grow and, like it or not, we will be more connected to the ups and downs of a national, international economy. How Maine handles that transition is something happening right now. To guarantee Maine will continue to have sustainable natural resources and that its Quality of Place will be enhanced and protected, a strong foundation needs to be built. The Baldacci Administration, working with elected officials, concerned citizens, and organizations is working hard to make sure that foundation is rock solid.
Now, more than ever, what gets done in Augusta will directly affect future generations of people living in Maine.
Despite the economic downturn, Maine will be adding these new jobs to its economy:
• The work the North Star Alliance has enabled specialized training schools to be built, turning the tide for future of boat building in Maine. For some time boat builders had to bring skilled workers in from out of state. Now with these schools and an apprenticeship program, workers can find good-paying jobs in the marine industry. Over 700 new jobs are opening up in the state’s oldest industry, revitalizing this traditional economic engine with new technological advances. These jobs are available all along Maine’s coast, and some inland.
• The state has more than 3,000 bridges that need constant maintenance; due to the governor’s report detailing the conditions of these bridges, the state will put $160 million into refurbishing them or replacing them. This translates into up to 3,000 jobs. Every one of Maine’s 16 counties will see bridge work underway.
• As a result of this winter’s wrath, many of our roadways tend to slow us down. New jobs repairing them have been funded statewide.
• The railway lines from Portland to Brunswick are being upgraded to accommodate the Amtrak Downeaster and freight rail, because of the state’s investment in this infrastructure. New jobs laying the tracks are available. Other areas anticipating the eventual extensions of rail reaching them are seeing investments in housing development and businesses.
• In addition, since the governor introduced Pine Tree Zones, which give tax incentives to companies, 160 businesses have been certified, which have brought 4,100 jobs to the state. Recently an international banking company, Barclays, opened a call center in Wilton, adding up to 200 jobs, and another call center, Global Contact, opened in Pittsfield, adding 200 jobs. Cabela’s, Inc. recently opened in Scarborough, which means new jobs. These companies are in Maine because of PTZs and the great Maine work ethic and attitude. Over 100 new jobs were gained in Southern Maine due to PTZs last spring.
• Incentives were created to increase the number of jobs for dental hygienists for rural communities.
New jobs mean that consumer spending should grow in the areas where these jobs are located, and suppliers will have new contracts.
The ongoing work on protecting the state’s natural resources, while investing in the research that develops technologies that will advance Maine’s economy, using those resources sustainably, have taken steps forward. The Governor’s Council on Maine’s Quality of Place made its final report that, amongst other recommendations, said jobs should grow in the tourism sector as Maine’s attributes are recognized more and continue to be invested in. A report was published that described the benefits of cluster development, which the Baldacci administration has been promoting. Cluster development is the bedrock of the new economy; a prime example of how these economic cluster sectors can grow has been given to the state the work of the North Star Alliance.
The health and well-being of Maine’s citizens took steps forward:
• New laws to protect children from toxic chemicals, lead, and secondhand smoke passed.
• DirigoChoice, the state’s insurance arm of Dirigo Health, found sustainable funding — the insurance that includes preventative care and covers preexisting conditions has saved lives and now can continue to do so.
• A study to see if Maine would be better with a universal healthcare system will go ahead.
• A veterans’ campus in Bangor will become a one-stop-shop access to services, information, and all the state and federal programs that are available to them. It will be a model for other campus’ around the state.
• A law protecting patients from having to pay for mistakes caused by hospitals passed
What happens in Augusta makes a direct difference in the lives of the people of Maine.
While state government can’t change the staggering prices at the gas pump, the state is doing everything possible to become energy independent.
The first-ever Governor’s Energy Summit took place in Augusta with over 500 businesses and individuals attending and new low-interest loans were introduced to help businesses become energy efficient. This session, wind power took a big step forward with a bill streamlining the regulatory process; steps were taken with a landmark bill to move Maine out of the ISO electrical power grid, so Maine can become an independent energy supplier. And ethanol, made from wood pulp with technology developed at UM, will begin product testing.
And while budgets and programs were being slashed in many states, Maine managed to balance the budget while dealing with a $190 million shortfall. Lawmakers didn’t raid the Rainy Day Fund or raise taxes. About $160 million of the saving came from the governor’s ongoing consolidation efforts in administration. The streamlining of state services, which includes eliminating jobs that duplicate other people’s efforts, will make state government more efficient and provides a needed foundation.
There were programs that were slated to be cut. This is where the public witnessed how government works best by everyone working together. Once officials were shown that some cuts would truly hurt citizens, the Appropriations Committee worked long and hard with the Governor’s Office and legislative leaders to find creative ways not to cut services that would affect the most vulnerable. After three long months of negotiations, they succeeded and were able to put aside an additional $10 million into the Rainy Day Fund. The headlines were there when services were to be cut, but strangely absent for the work that the Appropriations Committee, legislative leaders, and the Governor’s Office did to make sure core programs remained strong and consolidation efforts took major strides forward.
Educational consolidation issues were addressed and changed by the 123rd Legislature, and despite much speculation and negative news reports, jail consolidation efforts are under way which will have the added benefit of reducing property taxes. As the sheriff from Andrsogen said, “We all knew our corrections system was broken; something had to be done. I’m just really surprised it happened so quickly.” The director of the State Planning Office, Martha Freeman, said the bill should also be viewed as an example of how the State is moving forward with consolidation efforts that are the foundation for a more efficient government. “It also stands for what we can do together in terms of creating the new structures that we need to run Maine in the 21st century. A lot of our government structures are two to three hundred years old. It’s time to evolve while maintaining local input, local control, the real collaboration and community that is Maine,” she said.
State government is working for all the people of Maine, building a strong foundation for the future.