AUGUSTA, Maine — Gov. Paul LePage said he got some good ideas and comments at his three job summits with employers across the state this fall and he soon will be proposing legislation containing both short- and long-term goals to improve Maine’s economy and promote job creation.
“We heard a lot of concerns about the cost of doing business in Maine,” he said in a wide-ranging interview earlier this week. “We are going to be doing what we can in January to address that but some things are long-term and some are in the short-term.”
LePage said that he has heard consistently that energy costs, insurance costs and the regulatory climate are slowing growth. He believes that health insurance costs have been addressed in legislation approved last session but not yet fully implemented.
“And it’s not the regulations themselves, it’s the environment, the delay and the slowness,” he said. “I think they just want the process speeded up.”
LePage said he has told state agencies they need to improve the way they handle applications so the process can take less time. He said routine permits should not take a long time to process and the attitude of staff needs to be focused on how to help businesses get the permits they need to create jobs.
He said in the January session he will be submitting legislation where it is needed to further address insurance costs, state regulatory climate and energy costs. He said legislation passed earlier this year in all three areas was a start but more needs to be done.
“You are going to see a lot of work coming forward on energy,” LePage said. He said he has been discussing how to get less expensive electricity from the Canadian provinces and hopes to have them bid to supply electricity through the standard offer process in the spring.
Most Mainers and many small businesses get their electricity through the bid process operated by the Public Utilities Commission to provide electricity to the state’s distribution utilities. Large businesses often negotiate directly with electricity generators to purchase the power they need.
“We are going to work on natural gas, we are going to look at more efficient ways to use oil, we are going to work on [wood] pellets,” LePage said. “We are going to be looking at all ways we can to reduce the costs of energy.”
LePage said a fundamental problem facing the business sector is the state’s educational system. He said he will be proposing legislation that addresses all levels of education and he realizes improving schools, colleges and universities will take time.
“I’ve got three years to get it done,” he said.
LePage said his administration, led by Education Commissioner Stephen Bowen, will propose new common core standards for elementary and secondary schools and will push the establishment of some charter schools in 2012.
“These are the types of things we have to work on,” he said, “I think we have to challenge our kids more.”
LePage said local schools need to do a better job of getting kids ready to work right out of high school in a trade or apprenticeship program or go on to higher education. He said too often kids that could do well in a trade are pushed to go to college by teachers and guidance staff and that needs to stop.
“You can work at a paper company and make $60,000 or $80,000 a year and never go to college,” he said. “That’s a lot better than some kids that go to college and only make $30,000 to $40,000. There has got to be a balance and we have got to look at what there are out there for jobs.”
LePage said changing the way Maine’s education system works will take time, but he said it is crucial for the future of the state. He said he is frustrated that companies in Maine are waiting to hire employees but cannot find workers with the right skills.
“That has got to change,” he said.
LePage said the legislation to accomplish his sweeping goals is being drafted.
Rep. Emily Cain, D-Orono, the House minority leader, said many of the goals LePage has laid out are shared by Democrats but how LePage plans to achieve his goals through legislation and the state budget remains to be seen.
“I am anxiously awaiting the package of bills from the governor’s office related to job creation and economic development,” she said. “Democrats have been calling for that type of legislation to come from the governor all year.”
Unlike lawmakers that need approval from legislative leaders to introduce legislation in the January session, the governor can introduce a measure at any time.