June 22, 2018
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Leadership matters

While Republican and Democratic leaders have been busy taking credit for the success of the recent legislative session, little attention has been paid to the fact that several key appointments by Senate President Kevin Raye and House Speaking Robert Nutting made much of this work possible.

Their choice of Richard Rosen and Pat Flood to head the important Appropriations Committee is a prime example. Both men are measured, open to debate and highly respected by their peers. They also refused to ride roughshod over Democrats in the name of Republican majorities in the House and Senate and a Republican governor (Rep. Flood briefly resigned to make this point). These qualities enabled them to negotiate deals that seemed impossible only hours before.

Under their leadership, the Appropriations Committee was able to craft a plan to substantially pay down the state’s pension liability without unduly harming state employees. They reworked a Republican tax plan to cut the state’s top income tax rate and target relief to small businesses (although it is unclear that the reduced tax collections are truly accounted for in future years).

Proposed cuts to the state’s social safety net, such as ending Medicaid benefits to 28,000 Mainers, were scaled back or eliminated from the budget. Benefits will continue for childless adults and funding was restored to programs such as family home visits and dental care, run by Fund for a Healthy Maine. Proposed reductions in state reimbursements for general assistance provided by Maine’s largest communities were also eliminated from the budget by the Appropriations Committee.

If the panel had been headed by more partisan lawmakers or those who felt Republicans should do whatever they want since they won the November election, such improvements in the biennial budget likely wouldn’t have resulted.

Regulatory reform work is another example. The Committee on Regulatory Reform and Fairness took the governor’s disparate list of dozens of rules he wanted changed or eliminated — ranging from not going ahead with the state’s ban on BPA to rezoning a third of the state’s Unorganized Territory for development — and turned it into a reasonable set of policy changes. LD 1 set up a system of environmental self-audits and boosted business assistance within the Department of Community and Economic Development.

A committee to redraw the lines between the state’s 1st and 2nd Congressional Districts, which was recently required by a federal court, also appears off to a good start, in part because of the appointments of President Raye and Speaker Nutting, along with their Democratic counterparts.

Naming moderate members, such as Reps. Les Fossel and Ken Fredette and former House Republican Leader Josh Tardy, to the group should ensure that it focuses on the most reasonable solution to evening out Maine’s congressional districts rather than trying to gain partisan advantage.

Not everything went well during the first session of the 125th Legislature, but good leaders helped turn an unpredictable beast into a functional legislative body.

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