AUGUSTA, Maine — Republican legislative leaders Tuesday made an argument for voters to return their party to power in the state capitol, touting a list of accomplishments during a State House news conference that they say have made Maine more hospitable to business and primed the state for long-term job growth.
State Senate President Kevin Raye, House Speaker Robert Nutting and Republican leaders in both chambers cited a regulatory reform bill, tax cuts, changes to the state employee pension system and a health insurance reform law that they say will stem the tide of insurers leaving Maine.
“We realized that we were sent to govern,” said Senate Majority Leader Jon Courtney, who is challenging U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree to represent Maine’s 1st District in Congress. “We have set Maine on a trajectory to move forward in a very positive way.”
The Republican leaders, who took over control of both legislative chambers from Democrats in 2010, also unveiled a glossy publication, “Promises Made, Promises Kept,” chronicling some of the initiatives of the first fully Republican-led Legislature in more than 30 years. Party-affiliated political action committees that raise money for legislative campaign efforts picked up the booklet’s printing costs.
Voters “gave us a chance, two years, to see what we could do after nearly four decades of control by the Democrats,” Nutting said. “Unlike what we see in Washington, D.C., where they have constant gridlock, this Legislature has solved problems.”
But Democrats accused their Republican counterparts of “running from their record.”
“This was political theater 30 days before the election,” said Sen. Justin Alfond, the Senate’s assistant Democratic leader. “They did not cover the real story.”
The GOP’s legislative leaders pointed to a regulatory reform package that passed the House and Senate by wide margins, a budget supported by both parties that lowers the top income tax rate to 7.95 percent from 8.5 percent and merges the state’s four income tax rates into two, and a health insurance overhaul bill that will allow residents to buy out-of-state insurance plans and allow insurance companies to charge different rates based on residents’ ages, health status and where they live.
“These measures show clearly that under the new leadership of the 125th Legislature, we took seriously the direction we were given by the voters of Maine in 2010 by enacting a series of positive reforms,” said Raye, who is challenging U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud to represent Maine’s 2nd District in Congress.
But Democrats said their Republican counterparts’ policies haven’t helped to create jobs or jump-start economic growth. They pointed to statistics from the federal Bureau of Economic Analysis showing Maine’s economy shrank by 0.4 percent in 2011 while New England’s economy as a whole grew by 1.8 percent, and that Maine’s personal income growth last year was the slowest in the nation.
“Republicans have been governing the state for two years,” Alfond said. “This is their economy. They have to take responsibility.”
Democrats are especially critical of the Republicans’ health insurance overhaul, which they say has led to higher premiums. They pointed to an analysis by the advocacy group Consumers for Affordable Health Care that found premiums have increased for 54 percent of individual policyholders in Maine and 90 percent of small-business policyholders.
But supporters of the overhaul say premium increases are smaller thanks to the new law, and that fewer policyholders are seeing increases now. Plus, some of the law’s provisions haven’t yet taken effect and will be phased in over time.
Nutting said Republicans have focused on long-term solutions over the past two years.
“Certainly we have not fixed all Maine’s problems,” he said. “The only way really that state government can effect job creation in the short term is hire state employees. I don’t think people want to do that. What we have done instead is put in place these long-term reforms.”