April 26, 2018
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Leadership change paying off

By Robert Nutting, Special to the BDN

The bold step Maine voters took a year and a half ago to change course and give Republicans a chance to lead is paying off in a big way.

Republicans ran on a promise of cutting taxes, rolling back red tape for Maine’s businesses, reforming welfare and getting the state’s financial house in order. We made significant strides in all of these areas, and the people of Maine are better off because of it.

One of the first priorities for our new Legislature was scaling back excessive government regulations and red tape that business owners identified as their number one burden.

We passed sweeping regulatory reform that rolled back layers of needless, redundant regulations. The state also now has a small business advocate to help small businesses navigate the state’s regulatory maze.

As a result, the amount of time it takes to issue a new development permit has dropped significantly. The Department of Environmental Protection cites a co-owner of seven Tractor Supply Company stores in Maine as saying, “Although we think there is still room for improvement on the turnaround time, we got our permit in half the time as our previous five projects.”

After consistently being named last in the country for business-friendly states by Forbes magazine, there is a new attitude about Maine. We placed 32nd this year in the chief executive’s eighth annual survey of CEO Opinion of Best and Worst States in which to Do Business. The previous ranking was 36th.

Recently, the Wall Street Journal ran a column titled “Obamacare in Reverse.” The piece chronicles the positive changes flowing from LD 1333, a landmark piece of legislation that introduced more competition into Maine’s health insurance market.

The Wall Street Journal editorial notes that premiums are “falling by as much as 69 percent for Maine’s dominant insurer, Anthem.” That’s refreshing news to policyholders who have grown accustomed to double-digit increases in their premiums, often on an annual basis. One constituent recently wrote to his state senator, “I just wanted you to

know that our health insurance — self-employed individual policy for my wife and I with Anthem BCBS — just went down from $429 a month to $378 a month! I have never seen a decrease in my life until now! I’m not sure what caused this monumental event, but I thank you and everyone who is trying to reform our health care system.”

The cause of this monumental event was health insurance reform passed by the 125th Legislature.

There’s great news when it comes to the state pension system. Retirement system officials report they will need $70 to $80 million less than expected for the next two-year budget. Part of this is due to improved performance of the pension system’s investments in the stock market. But structural, cost-saving changes the Legislature made to the pension system also played a major role.

This Legislature also passed the largest tax cut in state history. The reductions benefit Mainers of every income level. More than 70,000 low and moderate income filers will end up paying no state income taxes at all, as a result of the legislation.

Maine’s economy will not be turned around overnight, but we are seeing signs of progress. The state’s unemployment rate has dropped to 7.2 percent, which is far too high to indicate a significant recovery, but well below the national average, which actually increased to 8.2 percent last month.

Republican leadership also demonstrated it could confront the main problem that led us to our recent financial difficulties: overspending. Under Democrat leadership, Medicaid spending grew at an exponential rate and greatly exceeded the national average: a 79 percent increase since 2002, while the state’s population only grew by 7 percent. Year after year, the Legislature was forced to find ways to cover budget shortfalls at the

expense of vital government services, such as public safety and education.

The 125th Legislature made structural changes to the Department of Health and Human Services budget that puts us more in line with national norms.

It is worth noting that five out of six budgets were passed with overwhelming support from both Democrats and Republicans, and nearly all of the topics mentioned above were passed with bipartisan support. Senate President Kevin Raye and I were committed to operating the Maine Legislature differently than Washington — without partisan gridlock.

The change of leadership in Augusta is already paying off for the people of Maine, and I am proud of my fellow legislators for taking the bold steps necessary to make it happen.

Rep. Robert Nutting, R-Oakland, is the Maine speaker of the House.

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