Martha Freeman talks about how LD1 is lowering property taxes – 225,000 people are now eligible for greater property tax relief

April/May 2006

Article and photos by Ramona du Houx

According to state law, there are four core duties assigned to the Maine State Planning Office (SPO). They are: conducting economic analysis, including forecasting; coordinating the development of the state’s economy and energy resources and conserving natural resources; providing technical assistance to towns and regions; and providing technical assistance to the governor and Legislature by undertaking special studies. But the job encompasses so much more.

To start, the SPO staff must have the ability to work with a wide variety of interest groups from all political backgrounds, legislators and local government officials. The SPO director, in particular, must be a skilled negotiator on the governor’s behalf. In short, director Martha Freeman has to bring everyone to the table and broker workable solutions that progress the economic, environmental, and social wellbeing of Maine.

“By advancing the governor’s vision, I help create opportunities for the state of Maine to prosper in the areas of the economy, education, health care, and the environment. Because of Governor Baldacci’s leadership, our state has made significant progress in all these areas,” said Freeman.

“The governor came into office facing a $1.2 billion structural gap. He’s balanced the state’s budget every year without raising broad-based tax, and funded important initiatives. We’ve made definite progress moving Maine into the new global economy, while preserving the character of our state, ensuring our natural resources will be there for future generations.”

Watching Freeman in legislative committees explaining policy patiently, answering questions skillfully, and listening to concerns, it’s easy to see why Governor Baldacci appointed her. She manages to put people from varying perspectives at ease, while continually promoting the governor’s views.

“Since he’s been in office it is amazing how much the governor has accomplished,” said Freeman. Before Baldacci became governor she worked on his campaign and was key in helping him formulate the policies he ran on. “He’s kept all his campaign promises,” she said, and she started to enumerate some of them:

•   “He said he would establish a state health care system, community colleges, and plan for a seamless Pre-K through 16 educational system — he’s done all that.

•   He said he would get the Essential Programs and Services education funding formula enacted, and he did. The state’s share of education funding has increased up to 50 percent, on the way to 55 percent in two more years.

•   The governor got LD 1 through the Legislature with bipartisan support to provide property tax relief. As a result, growth in property taxes has decreased.

•   He said he would invest in the knowledge-based economy and he has, with bonds in research and development, and programs to ensure cell phone and broad-based internet access.

•   He said he would preserve more of Maine’s environment and he has, with bonds that have increased the Land for Maine’s Future acquisitions, which is also helping to protect our working waterfront communities.

• The governor tackled Maine’s business equipment taxes, which will increase investment in Maine. This goes along with his Pine Tree Zone tax incentive program, making Maine more attractive to businesses.”

“Governor Baldacci has accomplished so much on behalf of Maine’s prosperity.”

Freeman helps the governor make it all happen.

“From the day he began his first gubernatorial campaign, Governor Baldacci saw how many of the issues facing Maine are interrelated. His vision was and still is to create opportunity through addressing health care, education, the environment, and our economy. He understands that no single issue can be isolated from the rest. His accomplishments all aim at the goal of preserving the character and quality of Maine while setting the table for businesses and people to prosper, and that’s how everything has been able to come together. He is a man with an incredible vision,” said Freeman.

“My job is to bring people together around the governor’s priorities,” said Freeman, modest about her accomplishments. “Basically I’m supportive of all the good work of a lot of people in all areas. I’m there to help integrate and facilitate. It’s a bit like being a traffic cop.”

Anyone who has ever visited the State House and witnessed Maine’s lawmakers in action, talked to the countless lobbyists and heard arguments about an issue from all sides, would have great respect and admiration for Freeman’s work. Bringing everyone to the table and having them come to an understanding that will move the state ahead is not that easy.

“It’s frustrating at times, but you persevere and keep putting one foot in front of the other. You have to really listen to all concerns, always keeping the governor’s goal first and foremost in your mind. There is always something more to learn in terms of substance or process. Every bit of information helps you get to the same place where agreements can be made. Good communication goes a long way. You can’t be pushed away from your goal, but there is often room to maneuver. My main objective is to help people choose. When people vote their hopes, not their fears, we move Maine forward,” she said.


Martha Freeman talks with Governor Baldacci

Freeman grew up in Maine, went away to college, and spent time in Washington, DC working on the Senate Subcommittee on Constitutional Rights.

“I love working in government.” But, ultimately, Maine brought her back home. “I missed the beauty and community of Maine. I love Maine. It really is the way life should be. The natural world is so beautiful here. In Maine we still have a community of people. Everyone knows somebody. With a population of only 1.3 million people and many shared values, we have greater opportunities for everyone to pull together, face challenges and succeed. And we do. Maine is special.”

Keeping Maine special means having the foresight to see down the road and plan for growth. Maine was one of four states with an in-migration according to a report by the U.S. Census Bureau. From 2000 to 2004, the average number of people moving into Maine each year exceeded the number of Maine residents leaving. This is a reversal of the 1990s. Maine has become a place to discover.

“Twenty years ago the Legislature passed the Growth Management Act to ensure growth was balanced in Maine. We are reviewing the act, revising and updating it, working with all the stakeholders. Together we’re formulating plans for how to best manage 21st century growth in Maine — to ensure that Maine continues to be the way life should be,” said Freeman. “That is what Governor Baldacci wants government to do. He wants us to meet 21st century challenges. We have made investments in Maine people, Maine businesses, and Maine communities to keep growing in ways that works for today and the future with the global economy while maintaining the specialness of Maine. The governor has put us on the right path.”

Prior to joining the administration, Freeman served as director of the Maine Legislature’s Office of Policy and Legal Analysis and as a special assistant to the attorney general. She has also been a public policy and management consultant, a counselor in private practice, and an author writing about the environment.

Freeman has a law degree from the University of Maine School of Law and a master’s degree from the University of Maine Graduate Program in Clinical Counseling. Freeman met her husband, a former State Planning Office director, while working at the Capitol. She has four grown stepsons.

“I love public service,” she said. “The best part is when everyone’s goal becomes what’s good for all of Maine, not what’s in the interest of one group or another,” said Freeman. “The collaborative process of bringing everyone to the table is a reflective one. It makes people seek answers about what we value. What are our collective goals? Can we reach them in ways that serve everyone’s interests? It’s important to seek compromise before getting stuck in our corners. What we are aiming for and why. That, I think is important.”

Freeman also studied philosophy in college which, with her other training, gives her a unique perspective on issues, enabling her to bring the focus back to the big picture when it gets lost.

“Sometimes it’s hard for people to accept change, even though it is positive change. Sometimes we all wish we could just hold onto the past. But this is a time of transition in Maine, the country, and the world. We need to have the will to accomplish goals,” she said. “There is always something more to learn. You have to listen and listen well to each other, to every word with interest. The more you do that the more possibilities emerge for achieving our goals while being committed to certain values. Governor Baldacci’s values are clear. They’re Maine values of caring, hard work, and love of place. He’s accomplished policies that serve these values.”

During her time with the Baldacci administration, Freeman said that the most challenging issue that she’s worked on was providing property tax relief through LD 1, which was proposed by the governor in December of 2004. A select legislative committee was called in to work for a month in December to broker a deal that would ensure property tax relief for the people of Maine. They worked throughout the holidays and came up with a real solution. The committee was composed of equal numbers of Democrats and Republicans, and one Independent. Municipalities, education officials, the Chamber of Commerce, the administration, and other interested parties all had their input into the legislation. The variety of people representing different organizations and viewpoints all had to come together.

“The biggest challenge was building trust among everyone. But everyone stuck to it and came up with a final product that works. In the year since its enactment, LD 1 has begun to change spending at all levels of government and reduce property tax growth,” said Freeman. “We need to let LD 1 continue to work.”

“It’s a privilege to do the work that I do in this great state. I love this state so much. It’s a wonderful place to raise your family; I’m just thrilled that I get paid for doing what I love. I work with great people, she said. “It’s fun, an intellectual challenge, and a relationship challenge. To know you’re achieving objectives that will help all of Maine really is exciting.

“Of course there is more to do. Maine needs the governor to be given the opportunity to continue to implement his vision. He’s balanced budgets, provided tax reform and relief, put Maine’s fiscal house in order, and invested in health care, education, and research and development. That’s a lot in four years. More people are working than ever before, and incomes are rising. More people have health care, and more are seeking the higher education needed for today’s good jobs. Under the governor’s leadership, Maine is on the right road,” said Freeman.

“We have more to do along that road and, given the opportunity, we will do it. The people of Maine are our best resource. The governor’s policies of investing in the people will continue to increase the wellbeing of our citizens and state. Maine is getting positive national attention for these policies and, most importantly, we are making a real difference in people’s lives.”