Most of us who have traveled northbound on the interstate from New Hampshire are familiar with the sign that reads “WELCOME TO MAINE — The Way Life Should Be.” Under this well-known marker is a new message, “OPEN FOR BUSINESS.”
It’s more than a slogan. This sign reflects a new attitude that it’s no longer business as usual in Maine. The election of Gov. Paul LePage and a Republican-controlled Legislature has brought a spirit of hope and optimism that Maine can reverse its reputation as a bad state for business.
Already, the Legislature has produced major reforms in such critical areas as health insurance, public pensions and taxes, all of which, directly or indirectly, will improve the business climate.
Now, the campaign to improve our economy and create jobs has moved on to another area of opportunity — the state’s heavy regulatory burden.
Few things can smother an economy more than a regulatory regime that thwarts or discourages capital formation and the entrepreneurial risk-taking involved in starting a business. For decades, Maine’s business community has been plagued with many unnecessary and redundant regulations that made it difficult to flourish.
Fortunately, many of these barriers are being eliminated.
The Texas Instruments plant in South Portland (formerly National Semiconductor), one of the state’s largest employers, is a case in point. They use isopropyl alcohol in the process of manufacturing semiconductors. Until recently, disposal of the material cost the company up to $40,000 a year because the Maine Department of Environmental Protection classified isopropyl alcohol as hazardous waste. Under federal law, however, the material is not considered hazardous. After all, it is rubbing alcohol.
LD 1, a landmark regulatory reform measure approved by the Maine Senate and House by a combined vote of 181-3, changed that rule, and many others, to conform to federal standards. As a result, Texas Instruments will now be able to sell the used isopropyl alcohol so that it can be salvaged for use as a solvent. This approach is more environmentally friendly than the previous process of shipping it somewhere else to be burned. It also means a large Maine employer will no longer have to spend tens of thousands of dollars to destroy it.
Another example is the absurdity of a former state law regarding lobster traps. Maine fisherman could have faced a fine for storing traps on docks that they owned. The inexplicable reason: Maine’s DEP concluded that the shade created by lobster traps would result in the loss of “marine vegetation” — seaweed — near the docks. LD 1 eliminated that obstacle for Maine fishermen, many of whom are struggling to make a living in a heavily regulated industry.
There’s a new attitude in Maine when it comes to business — state government is here to help, not put up roadblocks. LD 1 created the position of small business advocate, who now hears regulatory concerns of small companies and reports back to the secretary of state, the governor and legislators about possible changes.
Being business friendly doesn’t have to come at the cost of being good environmental stewards. That’s why I voted for common sense legislation designed to protect our environment.
For example, I supported two bills that address the spread of invasive species in Maine. The first is LD 182, “A Resolve Directing the Department of Agriculture, Food and Rural Resources to Develop Criteria for Identifying Invasive Terrestrial Plants.” The second is LD 252, “An Act To Amend the Laws Governing Aquatic Nuisance Species.” Both measures will help the state identify invasive species and control their spread.
I also supported LD 553, which is intended to reduce Maine’s dependence on oil. The targets include a 30 percent reduction by 2030 and a 50 percent reduction by 2050. The focus will be on near-term policies and infrastructure changes that set the state on a reasonable trajectory to meet those goals.
For too long, Maine’s businesses have been burdened by over-regulation. We have paid the price in lost incomes, anemic job creation and economic malaise. The steps taken in the Legislature this year, and those planned for the next session, will go a long way toward restoring economic vitality in our state.
Rep. Jim Parker, R-Veazie, an environmental engineer, served on the Joint Select Committee on Regulatory Fairness and Reform. He also serves on the Environment and Natural Resources Committee.