Archive for February, 2013

Weekly Democratic Address by Rep. Lori Fowle (Vassalboro): Budget and Other Challenges Require Bipartisan Coorperation

Posted on February 23, 2013. Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , |

Audio link here.

lori fowleGood morning. I am Representative Lori Fowle. I’m honored to represent Vassalboro, Windsor and part of Augusta in the Maine House of Representatives.

I am excited to be part of a large group of first-term legislators in the House. I am new to the State House, but I’ve been active in local government for years. I served on the Vassalboro School Board for nine years and I’m currently on the town’s budget committee.

Running for state representative was the logical next step. I’ve seen the kind of budget hits that our towns and schools have taken over the years. I realized that I needed to be in the place where the laws were made – not just on the receiving end.

During my campaign, the people of my district told me that they wanted their lawmakers to come together to find commonsense solutions. I imagine that’s what Maine people all around the state expect and want from us.

I’m happy I’ve seen lots of cooperation at the State House. I’d like to think that the large group of first-term members in the House has something to do with that. New members are finding common ground as we learn and work together.

We’ve been sharing experiences about our bills. I hadn’t anticipated how a bill could have a life of its own – in a good way. Each needs nurturing and care. In my case, I’ve sponsored a bill to help police locate stolen items sold to pawn shops and another bill to provide disabled veterans with transportation to needed medical appointments. I’m guiding my bills through the process and getting input from stakeholders because I want them to become effective laws.

This week, the Legislature overwhelmingly approved a supplemental budget for current fiscal year. The budget-writing committee had the daunting task of dealing with a $153 million shortfall.

The committee worked hard and reached a unanimous decision on a budget that removed much of the potential harm contained in Governor LePage’s proposal — including cuts to important social service and health programs. Still, the supplemental budget underscores the need for efficiencies, a fair tax system and a balanced approach.

Moving forward, the two-year budget will become an increasing focus at the State House. I know that both Democrats and Republicans are concerned about it.

The governor’s proposal relies on a $425 million dollar tax shift to local communities. I’ve seen how difficult it is for local communities to deal with cutbacks, even before they faced the burden of the governor’s proposed tax shift.
Last year, Vassalboro property taxes went up an entire mil and the school district seriously considered significantly cutting back the hours of its sole librarian. Thankfully, that did not happen.

The budget has the potential to hurt every district, regardless of whether you’re a Democrat or Republican. We need a budget that will strengthen our economy and our middle class.

I’m hopeful about cooperation between lawmakers from both sides of the aisle. I’m working with other members of the Augusta delegation and look forward to addressing the city’s concerns about the upcoming budget.

You have to work together. It’s that simple.

This is Representative Lori Fowle of Vassalboro. Thank you for tuning in this morning.

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Rep Diane Russell (Portland): Maine must lead marijuana regulation (Video, Text, Pix)

Posted on February 23, 2013. Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , |

Link to full press conference conducted 21 Feb 2013. Speakers included: Rep. Russell, Shenna Bellows of ACLU of Maine, Denny Gallaudet (retired bank president and retired superintendent), David Boyer of the Marijuana Policy Project and Rep. Aaron Libby (R- Waterboro).

Representative Russell’s full address, as prepared:

“Maine is a remarkable case study in how a state can regulate marijuana in a controlled, responsible manner that balances the broad interests of public safety, substance abuse and parents. We have retail establishments that grow and supply marijuana to responsible customers.

We have proven that this can be done for medical purposes, and now it is time to institute that same strict regulatory infrastructure for responsible adult recreational consumers.

IMG_2464When was the last time you heard of a drug dealer carding a kid? It doesn’t happen. Responsible Maine business owners who sell alcohol do it all the time. It is time we let business owners who card their consumers earn the profits and not the drug dealers or drug cartels.

Two years ago, I introduced legislation to tax and regulate marijuana. I introduced it because I realized that the trends were shifting and public policy was going to have to shift to meet this new culture shift. What I did not realize was just how quickly that change would come.

Historically, the end of alcohol Prohibition began the day New York decriminalized its production. In our generation’s prohibition, Washington and Colorado were the tipping points. The question of whether to legalize or not was answered for history in November when voters in two states voted to allow marijuana to be taxed and regulated.

Over 1200 online viewers of the press conference, live streamed by Rep. Diane Russell (D-Portland)

Over 1200 online viewers of the press conference, live streamed by Rep. Diane Russell (D-Portland)

Most people have been remarkably supportive of my efforts and many share my concern about preventing young people from having access to marijuana. 85% of high school seniors are telling us that they have easy access to it. That number has not dipped below 82% since 1975. The War on Drugs began in 1971. If the metric by which we measure this program is the success we have had in getting it out of the hands of young people, then we have failed. Prohibition did not work with alcohol and it has not worked with marijuana, either.

Today, I join my colleagues in asking the legislature to do the responsible thing and to set up a regulatory infrastructure that takes into account the broad spectrum of interests: from law enforcement, from substance abuse counselors and especially from parents and teachers. Let us not bury our heads in the sands, hoping this issue will simply go away. We have been doing that for far too long as it is, and now we can see the trend is coming.

My bill would set up a strong regulatory infrastructure for the in-state cultivation and sale of marijuana to adults over the age of 21 by licensed retailers. It gives preference to Maine-based business owners, dispensaries and caregivers in the application process to do what we can to ensure we are creating Maine jobs.

IMG_2505

  • The bill taxes it at $50 per ounce, bringing in an estimated- and probably conservative- $13 million new dollars to the state.

  • 75% of that will go to the General Fund to offset education costs.
  • 10% will go to help law enforcement.
  • 10% will go toward substance abuse and prevention.
  • 5% would be set aside for research grants so that we can study the effects of marijuana use as well as THC potency.
  • This bill provides lawmakers an opportunity to have an open and transparent process to refine the regulatory framework of the current bill to ensure Mainers can be confident in the end result. If approves by the Legislature and Governor, the bill would go to the people for ratification by referendum.

    Maine has been a model state in how we regulate medical marijuana. We have been smart, conservative and responsible, proving that our state has the knowledge and ability to regulate properly. Our state motto, Dirigo, reminds us that we must lead. I’m asking my colleagues to do just that.

    Thank you.”

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    MPW Now Has UStream Live Video Feed Capacity

    Posted on February 20, 2013. Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: |


    Link to our new UStream Channel.

    We’ve tested this new feature out, driven it around the block a few times, and like its capabilities. So look for this new tool to occasionally provide better coverage of goings-on in Augusta.

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    Asst House Majority Leader Jeff McCabe (D-Skowhegan) Speaks to Co-Sponsored Emergency Bill, LD 576

    Posted on February 19, 2013. Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , |

    Link here to LD 576, An Act to “Resolve, To Protect Concealed Handgun Permit Information on a Temporary Basis”, sponsored by Asst Majority Leader Senator Troy Jackson, Asst House Majority Leader Representative Jeff McCabe, Minority Leader Senator Mike Thibodeau, House Minority Leader Ken Fredette and Asst House Minority Leader Alex Willette.

    “Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

    Men and women of the house, I rise today in support of the… uh… pending measure.

    I am glad that Democrats and Republicans could come together to provide some breathing room around this highly sensitive issue and provide this temporary shield and I personally feel that this will allow us to informatively and carefully evaluate this complex matter.

    I think this measure deserves all of our support.

    Thank you very much.”

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    Rep. Diane Russell (D-Portland) Addresses House on Emergency Bill, LD 576

    Posted on February 19, 2013. Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , |

    Link here to LD 576, An Act to “Resolve, To Protect Concealed Handgun Permit Information on a Temporary Basis”, sponsored by Asst Majority Leader Senator Troy Jackson, Asst House Majority Leader Representative Jeff McCabe, Minority Leader Senator Mike Thibodeau, House Minority Leader Ken Fredette and Asst House Minority Leader Alex Willette.

    “Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

    Mr. Speaker, ladies and gentlemen of the House,

    I would like to point out for the record that we are voting on a bill today that would limit the public’s right to know- and we are doing so, without a public hearing.

    This is a bad public process precisely because there has not been a public process.

    I also wanted an opportunity to allow the public to weigh in on this, and as Representative Brooks stated, it is the part I staunchly oppose.

    I will vote for the 60 days today, but I’d like the record to show that this is not a good process.

    We are much better than this.”

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    Video: Did 2009 Waterville Mayor Paul LePage Rip 2013 Governor LePage for Revenue Sharing Cuts to Towns, Education Funding Failures?

    Posted on February 11, 2013. Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , |

    Okay, not exactly– in this video clip of an April 2009 Waterville City Council meeting, then Mayor LePage is releasing his ire and repeated usage of his favorite “BS” curse- previous examples here(2010), here(2011) and here(2012) at then Governor John Baldacci.

    But considering LePage’s recently released proposed budget with a complete cessation of revenue sharing to all Maine municipalities, the interpretation is certainly a valid one.

    Watch for yourself.

    The clip’s descriptive:

      During a 2009 city council meeting, a foul-mouthed Mayor Paul LePage attacked then-Gov. Baldacci for “sticking it to the property taxpayers” when a recession-induced revenue collapse forced across-the-board budget cuts. Gov. LePage is now proposing an even greater tax shift that favors rich Mainers at the expense of Maine’s middle class.

    Over the weekend, this incident was mentioned as part of an examination of the current budget battle:


      …as mayor, LePage also liked state funding.

      waterville mayorFor example, he clashed with the administration of Gov. John Baldacci in 2009 when the state changed the way it reimbursed schools, leaving Waterville with likely $1.1 million less in funding than it expected. That change was discovered days before LePage announced his 2010 gubernatorial run.

      A story then in the Morning Sentinel said the then-mayor “blasted Gov. John Baldacci’s administration for what LePage called forcing costly unfunded mandates onto communities that cannot afford them.”

      “All they’re doing is transferring state responsibility onto taxpayers, and people keep falling for this governor’s bull–,” he was quoted as saying.

      The story said LePage doubled down on those remarks later, saying “I think the people of Maine should rally against this administration,” and again, “It’s bull–.”

    100_5149It is worth noting that in 2009, Mayor LePage was upset over a $1.1 million cut in funding to his city- and that his 2013 proposed budget as Governor represents over double that amount ($2.3 million) for Waterville.

    Perhaps LePage would be wise to take his earlier advice:

      “Governor, please watch this show. You’ve got to go back to the blackboard.”
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    Weekly Democratic Address by Rep. Anne Graham (N Yarmouth): CHALLENGES REQUIRE US TO FIND COMMON GROUND, BUILD ON STRENGTHS

    Posted on February 9, 2013. Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , |

    Audio link here.

    anne graham

    Good morning.

    I am Representative Anne Graham, and I serve the people of Gray, North Yarmouth and Pownal in the Maine House. I am also House chair of the Joint Standing Committee on State and Local Government.
    Our communities and local property taxpayers are facing the possibility of an enormous tax increase. Governor Paul LePage’s proposed two-year budget relies on a tax shift that places an undue burden on our towns, cities and their residents and businesses.

    Officials in my district tell me that they can’t withstand this strain. I imagine that the $425 million tax shift in the governor’s budget is having similar effects all over our state.

    The property taxes increases that will result from the governor’s budget proposal will create unnecessary hardship for many Mainers. I am particularly concerned for our elderly neighbors, many of whom are living on fixed-incomes and have little — if any — cushion in their household budgets.

    The tax shift breaks a promise between the state and our local communities. The governor’s budget suspends the longstanding revenue-sharing agreement that communities rely on for their roads, schools and public safety.

    The governor’s budget also includes the elimination of key property tax reduction measures and cuts excise tax revenues used for local infrastructure projects.

    Another troubling part of the tax shift is the added educational expenses for local districts. These new costs would come at a time when school costs already account for three-quarters of the local budget for many communities.

    I fear that our communities and residents are trapped between the loss of important services – including educational programming — and property tax increases they cannot afford.

    Democrats are not the only ones worried about the tax shift. I know Republican lawmakers share our concerns. And the conservative Tax Foundation in Washington, D.C., has also made note of the suspension of funding to local government.

    It’s clear that our state’s challenges are too big for one party to solve on its own. We must come together if we are to find sensible solutions.

    That is why I am one of the lawmakers leading a bipartisan group called the Common Ground Caucus. It’s this kind of cooperation and collaboration that we believe is necessary to get our flagging economy moving and grow our middle class.

    I’m also a big believer in positive thinking. While we do face significant challenges, we have many strengths and much to be proud of. Mainers are known for their ingenuity and work ethic. We are home to strong schools, communities and families. Our natural resources, from our mountains and forests to our rocky shores, are the envy of many.

    I believe in Maine. We need to build on our strengths to move forward.

    I know my colleagues here in Augusta believe in Maine as much as I do. Let us build on that common ground.

    This is Representative Anne Graham of North Yarmouth.

    Thank you for listening this morning. Have a warm and safe snowy weekend.

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    Weekly Address of Governor Paul LePage: Open and Transparent Government

    Posted on February 9, 2013. Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , |

    Audio link here.

    lepage officeHello. This is Governor Paul LePage.

    It was an honor to speak with Maine families during my State of the State address and reflect honestly on the progress made during the past two years and the challenges we face as a State.

    I believe you and your family can prosper as long as government is efficient and effective.

    You deserve a government you can trust and afford. Government should be transparent to the public. You deserve to know how government spends taxpayer dollars.

    During my campaign for Governor, I promised that I would help create an online tool to show how the state spends your money. I’m pleased to announce that the website is now available. Open Checkbook gives Mainers information about how their hard-earned taxpayer dollars are used by government by taking budget data out of government filing cabinets and
    making it available to you for the first time in an easy-to-access way.

    The website is opencheckbook.maine.gov.

    It enables you to search details of state spending, including vendor payments and employee compensation. We plan to expand the site even more in the coming months to include revenue data and other details related to budget expenses.

    Future enhancements will include expanded graphs and budget reports. Details on vendor payments will be uploaded to the website every month and employee compensation, including salary and benefits, will be updated on an annual basis.

    This site was funded by saving money in other programs. No additional taxpayer dollars were used to create this new service.

    I would also like to take a moment to praise Maine Public Broadcasting Network for their commitment to a transparent and open government.

    This week, it launched Maine Capitol Connection, a free, over-the-air television channel dedicated to live, day-to-day coverage of the Maine State Legislature.

    Viewers will have access to daily work sessions of the Maine Senate and House of Representatives. Important committee hearings, special events, and selected press conferences will be broadcast each session.

    I’ve had the opportunity over the past two years to work with Mal Leary, who is now leading a team of staff as the Managing Editor and Director of the station. I congratulate Mal for his work to get this project up and running.

    Mainers deserve a government that is open. Both Open Checkbook and Maine Capitol Connection provide you with the knowledge and power to engage and participate in the democratic process. I encourage you to continue to be an active and informed citizen. Your participation will help make Maine a better place.

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    Maine Governor LePage’s State of the State Address… and the Silence of the Elephants

    Posted on February 7, 2013. Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , |

    100_5149A smart political analyst once taught me an important lesson: “Don’t look for what IS being said but rather for what ISN’T being said.”

    Never has that been more clear as to provide insight than in the deafening local Republican silence, post-Governor LePage’s State of the State address.

    Case in point: Despite the best and multiple efforts of the Governor’s office in the hours preceding his address to drive forth usage of hashtag #MESOTS, 2 of his strongest allied sites, AsMaineGoes and MHPC/ The Maine Wire, failed to comply.

    At all.

    Here is the Governor’s missive, delivered at 10 am Tuesday morning:

    The Maine Republican Party dutifully retweeted as per the previous instructions and MRP Chair Rich Cebra’s office, under the auspices of former Marden IT guy/ LePage right hand man Jason Savage, immediately sent out a supportive press release after the governor concluded his remarks.

    Good boy, Jason. Get promotion.

    But as mentioned earlier sometimes, what is most telling is not the conversations themselves- but what ISN’T being said.

    Strangely enough, two of the Governor’s staunchest allies have been silent.

    As Maine Goes has not had a single thread on the Governor’s address, not even on their public forum. And they have not tweeted since Monday- not a peep in reaction.

    Here is their last tweet:

    Guess “loyalty” isn’t a lesson your lapdog has mastered, eh Governor?

    An aberration? Nope.

    Maine Heritage Policy Council and their “online newspaper”, ‘The Maine Wire’, also have been absolutely completely and eerily silent. MHPC last gave the world via Twitter the following deeply profound and compelling insight into the minds to Maine’s conservative members and their interests, which their other Twitter account, er, independent online newspaper retweeted as their most recent pearl of wisdom:

    Some days, ya can’t make this stuff up…

    Seriously. Nothing since then at all, on all three of these twitter feeds and sites.

    No RT shares of the Governor’s own very active Twitter account, no shared opinion pieces supporting LePage…

    Nada.

    One wonders why.

    Nationally, there has been some strong reaction from formerly friendly conservative quarters, as DC based group Tax Foundation (pdf warning) blasted Governor LePage’s public admission that with his proposed budget, he is indeed increasing taxes, as reported in the Kennebec Journal (LePage Budget ‘sneaks’ tax increase) and Bangor Daily News (Taxation watchdogs accuse LePage of ‘stealth’ hike).

    Just last October, this same group raised Maine’s business tax rating from 37th to 30th.

    And it wasn’t just irate conservatives who interpreted LePage as meaning that taxes would indeed be raised. Ethan Strimling in the BDN had this: Did LePage just say he was willing to raise taxes?

      What strikes me is his inclusion and emphasis on “right now.” He could have easily said “Let’s not raise taxes” and left it at that. But he didn’t.

      And not only did he not leave “right now” out, he actually emphasized it. It struck me the moment he said it, and in watching the video I am more convinced.

      Perhaps I am reading too much into it, but that sure sounds like an opening to Democrats that he would be willing to consider revenues in the long term. Perhaps in exchange for tax cuts today.

    A Portland Press Herald editorial called for rolling back the unfunded 125th Legislature’s tax cuts for the wealthy, sponsored by the Governor:

      “The last Legislature passed a huge tax cut, about $400 million over two years, which did not go into effect until January and has never been paid for. The size of the tax cut is roughly what cities and towns would lose without revenue sharing, the homestead exemption and other proposed program cuts.

      Delaying those income tax cuts would not raise taxes. It would keep them at the 2012 rate.”

    The tone of the Governor’s address was uncharacteristically conciliatory and cordial; perhaps his finally meeting with the Democratic majority leaders the day before broke the ice for some real progress in Augusta.

    But one wonders what whispered conversations are quietly going on behind closed doors…

    hannibalAnd so the question must be asked: “Well, Cebra – have the elephants stopped screaming?”

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    Maine Governor Paul LePage’s State of the State Address (Video; Prepared Text)

    Posted on February 6, 2013. Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , |

    (It should be noted that the Governor veered dramatically off of the prepared text on multiple occasions, as noted by media covering last night’s event. All signs seem to indicate that the Governor will indeed be seeking re-election in 2014. ~AP)

      Governor LePage’s 2013 State of the State Address As Prepared (VIDEO via BDN)

    IMG_1877“Chief Justice Saufley, President Alfond, Speaker Eves, members of the 126th Legislature, distinguished guests, and my fellow citizens.

    Tonight, I am here to update you, the people of Maine, about the condition of our great state.

    First, I must recognize and thank a few individuals.

    To my wife Ann, Ann please stand, I would not be here tonight without you. You have made Maine proud as our First Lady, especially through your support of our armed services and their families.

    To my family and friends, I appreciate all you have done, your unwavering support, and all you continue to do throughout my life’s journey.

    Staff Sergeant Justin Middleton, the military herald this evening, thank you for your courageous service to our state and nation.

    Members of our military and veterans that are here tonight, please stand.

    We salute you and extend our sincerest appreciation to each and every one of you for your service in keeping a safe and free people.

    In the balcony, you’ll notice an empty chair next to our uniformed service members.

    This chair represents every Mainer who is serving overseas, in harm’s way, so we can be here tonight and exercise our freedom to assemble and our freedom to speak.

    I ask that we all take a moment to remember, recognize and thank our men and women in uniform.

    IMG_1862Recently, Ann and I had the opportunity to go down to Arlington National Cemetery during the Wreaths Across America trip.

    As I walked through rows and rows of tombstones, marking the final resting place of our fallen American heroes, I remembered one simple truth: These individuals paid the ultimate sacrifice to ensure future generations had the opportunity to pursue their piece of the American Dream. It is a dream we cherish and the freedom that marks our lives is so rare for the rest of the world.

    The American experience represents a unique moment in time. We must not abandon it!

    If each and every one of our elected officials visited Arlington, they might realize the political battles we wage are meaningless in comparison to the blood that’s been shed to protect our American Dream.

    We all recognize that the political climate in Washington D.C. is toxic. With no solutions in sight, the Federal debt grows at such a pace that many of us question how the American Dream will ultimately survive for our children and grandchildren to experience.

    We owe it to each and every one of our fallen heroes, as elected officials, to come together and develop solutions to our challenges. We must commit to make our state a better place to live and raise our families.

    There is no more important thing in most of our lives than our families.

    Maine families are struggling. With a median household income of just under $48,000, Maine families survive on far less money than those in other states.

    Maine families struggle to heat their homes, fill their cars with gasoline, put food on the table, and pay for health insurance.

    Government has not strengthened Maine families with more income, opportunity, or reducing the cost of living.

    Instead government has taken more and more of our family’s hard working income away to serve some people’s political and/or financial self interests.

    The path forward offers two choices. We continue to accept the status quo or we can make the tough decisions to create a better Maine for everyone.

    We can only do this if we work together. Every Mainer deserves the opportunity to pursue the American Dream.

    IMG_1912Recognizing our Accomplishments

    Last session, we took steps to improve our economy.

    We provided Mainers the LARGEST TAX CUT in history in a bipartisan effort.

    Despite rhetoric to the contrary: 70,000 working Maine families no longer pay state income tax.

    Two thirds of all taxpayers are receiving tax relief, easing the burden on middle class Maine families.

    The average Maine family is receiving a $300 tax decrease. A 28% reduction in their state income tax.

    We also reduced taxes for Maine’s job creators. A critical step to attracting investment in Maine.

    Unfortunately, there are those who would like to undo these modest reforms– despite having voted for them.

    Now is not the time to rollback these monumental reforms.

    High taxes come at a high cost: the erosion of our state’s economic competitiveness.

    President John F. Kennedy had it right: “An economy constrained by high tax rates will never produce enough revenue to balance the budget, just as it will never create enough jobs or enough profits.”

    Tax cuts were not the only accomplishment of the last session.

    Together, we eliminated $1.7 billion, 41% of the existing shortfall in Maine’s pension system, without cutting retiree benefits.

    Maine families now have more choices when purchasing health insurance. Over 17% of Maine’s small businesses received a decrease in their rates last year.

    With LD 1, we reduced red tape, and improved our permitting process for businesses.

    Maine hospitals are now paid in real time for the services they provide.

    Principled job creators know that my administration wants to help, and my door is always open.

    You want to create a job; I want to be there to help.

    However, let me be clear, I am not interested in helping those who increase the cost of living on Maine people for personal financial gain.

    We passed legislation to strengthen vocational education. This will ensure that Maine students who work with their hands have more opportunities to learn valuable skills and gain good paying careers.

    We passed legislation to hold teachers and principals more accountable through performance evaluations.

    Unemployment is down in Maine, lower than the national average.

    We are focusing our efforts on branding the State of Maine, recognizing that Maine made products embody quality and value.

    Government is becoming more transparent. We exposed the wasteful use of Mainers tax dollars at agencies such as the Maine Turnpike Authority and Maine State Housing Authority.

    We not only exposed it – we cleaned it up. We have more to do!

    I am pleased to announce that in the coming days we will launch a new website that will enable Mainer’s to see how their precious tax dollars are spent.

    We placed renewed interest in our natural resource economy. Farming, fishing and forestry continue to be top priorities for moving Maine forward.

    My administration also launched a “Business Friendly Communities” initiative. The program works with our towns and cities to make them “Open for Business.” Eighteen Maine communities are now designated as business-friendly.

    These reforms are a small step in making Maine a better place to live and raise our families. There is so much work left to do.

    Once again, Forbes ranks Maine dead last in the nation when it comes to being business friendly.

    We can disagree with Forbes analysis; however, America’s job creators listen to them. Denial or sticking our heads in the sand will not change the reality.

    We must put ideologies aside and get to work to make Maine a competitive and prosperous state.

    IMG_1954Maine’s Economic Future

    I have spoken with a lot of Maine families and businesses in the past three years.

    They desperately want more opportunities, better paying jobs, and a lower cost of living.

    I spent most of my career in business creating jobs for hard working Mainers. I know what it takes to expand and create jobs. Maine’s cost of doing business is simply too high.

    For example, Alabama, South Carolina, Indiana, and Texas are attracting huge investments by companies, providing higher paying jobs for their residents, without exorbitant taxpayer subsidies.

    Why shouldn’t Maine people benefit from the same economic opportunity?

    Remember one simple truth: “Capital investment goes where it is welcomed – and stays where it is appreciated.”

    Improving our economy requires taking bold action.

    We must pay our bills, lower our energy costs, reform education, and make government more efficient and affordable for our economy to grow.

    IMG_1958Paying Our Bills

    When I became Maine’s Governor, hundreds of millions of dollars in unpaid bills to Maine’s hospitals were stacked on my desk. My predecessor left no plan to pay them, just IOU’s.

    During the last session we paid back $248 million in debt owed to our hospitals.

    Tonight, there is a plan on your desk, sponsored by Senator Pat Flood, to pay the outstanding balance of $484 million owed to Maine hospitals.

    Hardworking Maine families face two choices, pay their bills or face the debt collector. It is embarrassing that state government is not held to the same standard as every Maine household.

    In Lewiston, Central Maine Medical Center is owed over $50 million dollars. The result of the states IOU?

    Lewiston residents are denied the opportunity to fill critical positions, capital improvements are delayed, and local vendors go unpaid.

    These IOU’s are damaging the very communities each and every one of you represents.

    We cannot expect to have a prosperous economy when we owe hundreds of millions of dollars to hospitals that employ Maine people.

    My proposal ensures that Maine hospitals get paid. It will improve Maine’s fiscal health, allowing me to release authorized bonds, injecting more than $700 million into Maine’s economy.

    For the sake of Maine families, and our economy, I plead with you to act on this proposal quickly.

    Maine needs to pay its bills!

    IMG_1938Balancing Our Budget

    Hardworking Maine families sit at their kitchen table every month to balance their checkbook, and pay their bills.

    Federal, state, and local government must do the same.

    Our nation faces a national debt of over $16 trillion dollars.

    With the Affordable Care Act, Mainers will face huge tax increases, and regulations that will have a negative impact Maine’s own healthcare reforms.

    Gridlock has paralyzed Washington D.C., and the American people are paying a heavy price.

    We cannot continue to mortgage the future of our children and grandchildren because politicians won’t do their jobs. The policies of Washington D.C. will result in smaller paychecks for Maine families.

    In fact, the average Maine family is handing Washington an additional $1,000 dollars this year.

    Now is simply not the time to burden Maine families with higher taxes.

    I have put forward a balanced budget proposal. I want to hear other ideas for structural changes that will lead to a more efficient and effective delivery of government services.

    Energy

    Maine’s energy costs are TOO HIGH – and its killing economic opportunity.

    Maine families pay more than 24% above the national average for electricity. Our businesses pay 14% more.

    Even more discouraging is a law that forced the recent decision by the Public Utilities Commission in favor of Statoil’s off shore wind proposal.

    This move compels Maine families and businesses to subsidize a global entity to the tune of nearly $200 million dollars.

    Maine can ill afford any more of these job killing decisions that only increase electricity prices for Maine families and businesses, which just continues a policy of crony capitalism.

    We need more elected officials to stand up for the ratepayer, for the taxpayer, and for the folks who are paying the bills.

    Imagine the burden lifted for Maine families if we promoted policies that saved 24% of their electricity costs.

    For those who believe that Mainers should pay more for energy to serve a greater global goal or continue to pad the pockets of those politically connected, I fail to understand your reasoning.

    Long term prosperity for the sake of a buck today is not the path to a winning formula.

    Just think if every Maine business could invest the additional 14%, to create jobs and pay their employees higher salaries.

    For example, Bar Harbor Foods is located in Whiting in Washington County. The company manufactures seafood products.

    Mike Cote, CEO and Founder states that the high cost of Maine’s energy erodes the operating margins of the business, resulting in reduced profits.

    Reduction in profits slows his ability to re-invest for growth and hire more people in Washington County. In a county that struggles with widespread poverty, this is disheartening.

    Maine is competing nationally and internationally and we simply must do better, and we can do better.

    It only takes courage, to take bold action.

    The average Maine family spends more than $3,000 dollars per year to fill their oil tank. With access to natural gas, this same family could save an average of $800 dollars per year.

    My predecessor fast tracked permitting for wind projects; I am going to do the same for all natural gas infrastructure and Maine businesses.

    And we should continue to not pick favorites when it comes to energy, and I welcome every energy source that is cost effective for hard working, struggling Maine families.

    State government has mandated what types of energy Mainers must buy – regardless of the cost. That is wrong.

    Maine has played favorites when it comes to energy – ensuring that well dressed lobbyists and special interest groups pocket the profits, at the expense of Maine families.

    Last session, I proposed removing the 100 MW restrictions on renewable hydropower. Expanding access to low cost hydropower makes economic sense.

    This session, I am back before the Legislature with the same proposal because Maine needs and deserves lower energy costs.

    I encourage this body to advocate for the Maine people, and not bend to the special interests.

    Education

    I am passionate about education. This passion is not an attack on public schools. I speak passionately because education is what saved my life and I cannot accept any child not being given the same opportunity I had.

    As a homeless child on the streets of Lewiston, it never occurred to me that one day I could be a successful businessman, a Mayor or even Governor.

    Finding my next meal and a warm spot to sleep was my goal. However, through all that hardship I knew that education was the key for me, if I was ever going to climb out of poverty, escape a life in prison, or life on the streets.

    I needed the structure and discipline of a parochial school education provided.

    This option allowed me to succeed, despite coming from a background of poverty.

    I want every child in Maine to have the same opportunity I did, to pursue a quality education.
    Last session, we passed charter school legislation. A topic that has been highly politicized, by administrators and big union bosses, despite the fact that Maine was the 40th state to adopt charter schools.

    States like Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Minnesota – hardly “red” states — have been successfully running charter schools for decades.

    In fact, charter schools are part of the mainstream in the rest of the country.

    Let me tell you why charter schools are so important to Maine.

    Alex West is a student who is currently attending the Maine Academy of Natural Sciences, formerly known as Goodwill-Hinckley. Alex, please stand.

    Alex is from Hartland. He struggled in a traditional classroom setting, and was at risk of dropping out.

    He chose to attend the Maine Academy of Natural Sciences, and has gone on to take classes at KVCC. This charter school provided Alex with a bright future.

    School choice should not be just for the wealthy elite. Rather as Horace Mann stated in 1846 – “Education is the great equalizer.”

    Education is what brought Abraham Lincoln from splitting rails to leading our country though its greatest crises.
    School choice benefits each and every Maine student who deserves the best education this state can provide.

    Giving students options is more than charter schools. It’s the Maine Math and Science School in Limestone.

    It’s the 10 town academies that have a track record of great success. It’s the Bridge Year program in Hermon, where high school students can earn both a high school diploma and an associate’s degree in 5 years.

    All students and parents deserve options, especially those who are economically disadvantaged.

    Therefore, I am proposing legislation to give more educational options to all kids. We must fund schools that best fit the student’s needs.

    In the case of students like Alex, we will even fund residential costs to attend a school like Maine Academy of Natural Sciences.

    All Maine students deserve an equal chance of success whether you live in Cape Elizabeth or Fort Kent. This is how we break the cycle of generational poverty for Maine’s children.

    Despite committed teachers, dedicated parents and concerned citizens – too many public schools are not getting the job done. Not only do we need more options for students, we need to improve outcomes in all public schools.

    We have schools in Maine where only 23% of students are at grade level in reading and math upon graduation.

    On average, only 32% of Maine 4th graders are proficient readers. By the eighth grade, that number only climbs to 39%.

    Almost 20% of students drop out before graduation. Those of us in this room have the responsibility to fix this travesty.

    Far too many graduates are unprepared for higher education. 50% of incoming community college students require remediation.

    Far too many graduates are unprepared for the workforce. Employers are concerned that high school graduates do not have the basic math and reading skills necessary to succeed in the modern workplace.

    We spend more than twice the national average on administrative overhead in our schools. In fact, on a per-pupil basis, Maine has the highest district administration costs in the nation.

    This money should be going into the classroom, not funding more bureaucrats with questionable impact on our children’s education.

    Public school administrators are in denial, and have taken a position that simply cannot be defended on the facts.
    As a whole, Maine is not achieving academic growth at a competitive rate. This is unacceptable. But the good news is, we can reverse it.

    Here is how we fix the problem.

    First, we offer students options that work for them.

    Second, we hold our schools accountable. We tell students, parents, and communities if their schools are failing or thriving. We help those that are falling behind and replicate those that are working well.

    Tonight I am directing Commissioner Bowen to develop a ranking system for Maine schools. Each school will be graded A-B-C-D or F.

    Students, parents, and communities will understand if their schools are good, average or failing.

    Then, we help schools that are failing and reward schools as they improve.

    The third way we fix this problem is to adopt best practices. I plan to hold a Governor’s Conference on Education this March.

    We are bringing national experts to Maine to demonstrate what other states are doing to improve education.

    We cannot stand still, we cannot wallow in the status quo and let the rest of the country and world pass us by. Instead, we must embrace the fact that we need to change and work together to solve this problem.

    If you believe the status quo is working, you are the problem – not the solution.

    If you have an open mind and if you are willing to put our kids first — I invite you to join me in this effort.

    I’ll make this promise – I don’t care what party you belong too, if you are willing to put our kids first, to put aside issues like turf and money, we will get the job done.

    Domestic Violence

    Last session, we put politics aside and worked together to address domestic violence in Maine.

    We amended Maine’s bail code, ensuring that judges determine the bail for domestic violence offenses.

    We required abusers to pay into the Victim’s Compensation Fund. This provides financial resources to the victims and families of domestic abuse.

    A number of other bills dealing with stalking and risk assessment were passed, and executive orders signed.

    I want to thank Representative Ken Fredette and Senator Emily Cain for their leadership on this issue, and also for agreeing to sponsor a Governor’s Bill supporting our Batterers’ Intervention Programs.

    Ending domestic violence requires abusers to change – batterers’ intervention is an important step in that direction.

    As a youth, domestic violence hit close to home for me. I was not a spouse, I was a child.

    It is important that we broaden the discussion about these heinous crimes.

    Domestic violence is a crime that affects families. Family violence is domestic violence, and we need to focus on protecting all women and children.

    Dealing with protection from abuse orders and firearms continues to be an issue with no simple solution.
    Protection from abuse orders require people to surrender their firearms until further notice.

    However, the enforcement for this is deficient.

    Often police cannot do more than simply ask whether the person has surrendered their firearms.

    That is why I am signing an Executive Order tomorrow creating a task force to address this problem.

    Curbing domestic violence is an issue I take seriously and I value your help in this effort.

    Conclusion

    Maine families need help, and they are fed up with the partisan political rhetoric.

    They want a lower cost of living and opportunities for bigger paychecks.

    I have put my proposals forward, and I am open to hearing others. In order to succeed, we must put politics and gridlock aside and take bold action.

    The time for talk has ended; it is now time for action. Thank you for this opportunity to share my thoughts and vision with you tonight.

    God Bless Maine and God Bless America. Now, let’s get to work.”

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