May 24, 2018
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Getting a jobs bill harder than getting a job

By Anna Blodgett, Special to the BDN

I learned this year in the 125th Legislature that harder than getting a job was getting a jobs bill passed. This was not about not getting what I wanted; it was about not getting what the people wanted and why we were elected.

My bill, LD 521, “An Act To Employ the Unemployed” was a jobs bill that would allow a business that added a new employee or fill a job that had been vacant for at least three months to receive a state income tax break for six months if they hired a qualified person who had been unemployed and on Maine unemployment for at least six months.

As you may know from many national articles and local news, the longer you are unemployed the more you are considered unemployable. In fact, some newspapers were advertising that the unemployed need not apply.

The Taxation Committee, which heard LD 521, had the public hearing. This committee is the only joint standing committee with no Democratic senator serving on it and only four Democratic representatives out of 13 members.

Two small-business owners testified in favor of it as well as the Maine Restaurant Association. No one testified against it.

At the work session I began to see it unravel. It was voted down because they said the bill discriminated against people who had jobs. I contacted the Attorney General’s office, which determined that it was not discriminatory.

At this point I decided to make an appointment with the governor, who had stated that he wanted jobs for the state of Maine. I met with him and his economic advisor. The governor said that he really liked the bill and actually helped make a change to it, which was that the employer must keep the employee for a year to receive the tax break, and he would send a representative to tell the committee that he was in favor of LD 521.

None of these things happened, and I was beginning to see politics at its worst when you don’t collaborate, compromise and work together.

Thanks to the determination and belief in the bill, it was then brought up to be reconsidered at another work session by a Democratic representative on the committee, tabled and scheduled for a third work session. It was finally voted down at this work session 8-5 with one Republican voting in favor of the bill.

I had made changes to the bill to appeal to most on the committee. The Senate chair, who was against it from the beginning, said that he thought it was a bad bill from a tax use viewpoint. The annual fiscal note on this bill was only $15,000 (actually it would not have a fiscal note if you considered that the person hired would no longer be entitled to unemployment benefits).

After the members who had voted for the bill and I had our floor speeches, the House voted for the bill 87-57. The House chair of the Taxation Committee approached me after the vote and said he didn’t argue against it on the floor because he was told by his Senate chair that they were going to kill it in the Senate anyway. I knew at this point that LD 521 was dead.

I met Gov. LePage a second time. One on one, he talked with me and was very supportive and still wanted this bill to pass, but it never happened.

I guess we will never know what really happened, but I do know it was a lot of hard work and commitment for a jobs bill that I so believed in for Maine’s unemployed.

Anna Blodgett, D-Augusta, represents District 56 in the Maine House of Representatives.

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