Weekly Democratic Address of House Majority Leader Seth Berry (Bowdoinham): Outlining Maine Workforce & Economic Future Committee Goals
I’m Representative Seth Berry of Bowdoinham, the House Majority Leader in Augusta. Thank you for tuning in.
This week brought us an exciting development in our efforts to secure long-term prosperity for our state. We launched the Joint Select Committee on Maine’s Workforce and Economic Future. This group will develop legislation to strengthen Maine’s workforce, downtowns and small businesses. I was honored to be named co-chair of this Committee along with Senator Seth Goodall, and we look forward to working with the thirteen other Republican, Independent, and Democratic members.
We all know Maine’s economy needs a boost. We were the only New England state whose economy shrunk in 2011. And we were one of only seven states in the nation to experience that kind of backslide.
Too many Mainers are unemployed or underemployed because of our economy. While other states recover, more than fifty-thousand Mainers remain without work. And on this cold winter morning, too many of our neighbors are faced with having to choose between breakfast, heating fuel, or medicine.
These are sobering facts, but we must remember all that Maine has going for it. We must focus on what is possible and positive, and work together to make that happen.
We have a workforce that rightly takes pride in its Yankee ingenuity and work ethic. Our state is home to main streets and downtowns that are natural community hubs and economic engines. And the small businesses that power our state’s economy can also help pull us out of the ditch today.
Building on these strengths — our workforce, our downtowns, and our small businesses — we can grow our economy and our middle class.
And so, this jobs committee will tackle our workforce skills gap. In the next five years, four-thousand jobs will be unfilled, just because of a mismatch between worker skills and employer needs. This is an area where Democrats and Republicans can find common ground and build new public-private partnerships.
The committee will also work to revitalize our downtowns: our historic mill towns and ports, our gateways to Canada and Katahdin, our centers of enterprise and exchange. The high-tech export firm I work for chose Main Street in Richmond because of its sidewalks, storefronts and services. A friend’s business chose Belfast because of its convenience, community, and quality of life. A new sign on the highway may be a start, but it takes a vibrant community to make a business owner want to set up shop and make long-term investments.
Third, the jobs committee will focus on small businesses, which are 95% of all our businesses. We will look for ways to help small businesses lower costs, modernize, benefit from public and private research and development, to scale up, and compete in the global economy.
These are solid, positive ways to grow our middle class. They contrast to the policies pursued by Governor LePage. Earlier this week, for instance, Fitch Ratings announced a downgrade of Maine’s credit rating. Three concerns cited were the Governor’s unpaid bill for over $400 million in tax breaks largely for the wealthy – a bill he now proposes to shift to local communities and homeowners – the contentious tone he has set in Augusta, and the overall economic downturn since he took office.
The news was sobering, but not surprising. It was a reminder that there are consequences for our actions and attitudes in Augusta, and that there has never been a better time to put Maine back to work.
That’s why Democrats are seeking meaningful job-related investment – in areas like research and development and infrastructure such as roads and bridges.
In contrast, the governor would borrow a hundred million dollars to build a new prison and pay other debt by borrowing more money secured by future liquor sales. More prison beds, cheaper alcohol, and more borrowing from Wall Street do not make a plan that helps Main Street or Maine compete.
Meanwhile, the Governor still has not released more than a hundred million dollars in voter-approved bonds that should be putting Mainers to work today. These bonds would support jobs in transportation, higher education construction and clean water improvements with up to a five-to-one federal match.
Maine people have sent us a clear message: get the economy moving again and strengthen the middle class. That is the mission of the bipartisan Committee on Maine’s Workforce and Economic Future.
This is Representative Seth Berry. Thank you for listening. Have a wonderful weekend.