The recent piece by Assistant Minority Leader Sen. Justin Alfond titled “ New leadership in Augusta detracts from jobs, economy” is rather puzzling. The Legislature Sen. Alfond describes appears to exist in an alternate parallel universe.
Rather than celebrate the historic bipartisan reforms we made together, he highlights a litany of issues that were either obscure, received no support from legislators of either party or that he completely mischaracterizes. He accuses Republicans of revising history and uses his so-called examples to paint Republicans as “extreme.”
Our approach was so extreme that Democratic legislators voted with us in droves. Consider these major accomplishments, then decide how “extreme” our approach was:
Regulatory reform (passed in House 147-3, Senate 34-0): We took a first step in changing the culture at all levels of state government to one that makes good jobs and economic opportunity the mission of every department. We started a process that will create jobs and expanded opportunities for Maine people. Controversial proposals were considered and rejected.
State budget (passed in House 123-19, Senate 29-5): While most states cut education, we increased state funding to local school districts by $65 million. There were also no cuts to higher education.
We ensured the solvency of the state pension system for retirees by reducing the unfunded liability by $1.7 billion. Changes will save Maine taxpayers $338 million over the next two years. Democrats fought hard to protect the unions and minimize changes to all entitlements. We carefully considered the needs of all Mainers, including those who do not have pensions, but pay taxes to support them.
We enacted the largest tax cut in Maine history. It provides tax relief to working families and eliminates 70,000 low-income filers from state income tax liability. Our tax plan also targets job creation and retention.
We made structural reforms and changes that will help people escape welfare and ensure scarce resources assist our most vulnerable people. Changes included: the establishment of a five-year limit on TANF benefits; an end to MaineCare benefits for all legal noncitizens; imposition of strict sanctions for people who violate TANF rules; and required mandatory drug testing for convicted drug felons who receive TANF benefits.
Health insurance reform: When fully implemented, our legislation will allow people to purchase insurance across state lines, increase competition, lower premiums and deductibles for everyone and promote greater access to health care for the 133,000 Mainers currently without health insurance. Democratic support for this was modest, but they declined to defend the failed, unaffordable system that has been in place for years.
Effective governing balances competing interests, considers all points of view, then makes the best decisions possible for everyone involved. Republicans worked hard to create an atmosphere of mutual respect, bipartisanship and shared decision making. Balance requires that all points of view, including taxpayers, are considered before a decision is made.
Look at what we passed together, not just what was considered. For example, Sen. Alfond’s contention that we rewarded chemical companies by proposing to lift the ban on BPA (bisphenol A) is easily refuted by the 35-0 unanimous Senate approval to phase-out its use.
Republicans believe that jobs come from a private sector business climate that rewards private investment and risk taking and encourages people to hire others to join them in realizing the American dream. Mainers are tired of partisan rhetoric and wedge phrases like the ones contained in Sen. Alfond’s column. They want us to work together to solve problems. That is exactly what we did. We promised reforms; we made them. We are not done.
We thank the countless Democrats who voted with us, and those whose opposition strengthened our proposals. Maine is in a better place because during this session everyone was heard, especially taxpayers.
Jon Courtney, R-Springvale, is the Senate Majority Leader and chairs the Joint Select Committee on Regulatory Fairness and Reform.