Mainers expect results from whomever is leading.
The legislative session that recently came to a close in Augusta was no ordinary session: For the first time since the early 1990s, Maine government was divided with a Republican in the Blaine House and Democrats holding legislative majorities. Because of that, predictions for this session were bleak.
We are proud to report that with patience, persistence and a willingness to take the high road, Democrats delivered results for the people of Maine. We set clear priorities, we developed a plan, and we worked with our Republican colleagues to pass laws that will help Maine people.
When Democrats first took office, we made a commitment to tackle the issues important to Mainers — measures aimed at strengthening workers and growing Maine’s economy.
One of the Legislature’s biggest accomplishments was passing a bipartisan, responsible state budget that protects property taxpayers from the massive tax hikes proposed by Gov. LePage while also making sure that public schools get the support they need. By passing this compromise budget, we prevented a state shutdown and protected our economy.
In addition to the budget, we also got results on critical issues for Maine people.
Putting Mainers back to work: A top priority for Democrats was strengthening our workforce and ensuring that Maine’s workers have the skills needed for the jobs they want. We delivered on that promise. We passed a first-of-its kind workforce development bill to address Maine’s skills gap and put people back to work. Getting people trained for the jobs of today and tomorrow is good for workers and business and allows our state to compete. Because of the legislation we passed, Mainers who are interested in high-demand, high-need industries like nursing and precision manufacturing won’t have to face the extensive wait lists that exist at our community colleges. Plus, those who have started college but not yet finished will have a chance to go back and help secure a good job.
Helping our economy and growing good-paying jobs: We heard time and again that there are too few high-tech, high-skills, high-paying jobs in Maine. We also heard that Maine businesses need help securing capital to grow. The bipartisan work we did by passing the seed capital tax credit will make it easier for small businesses to get that capital and grow those higher-paying jobs in burgeoning industries.
Additionally, Democrats were proud that Republicans joined us to make the final payment to Maine hospitals. This final payment will allow our hospitals to make room for new investments in our health care system as well as protect valuable health care jobs.
Strengthening Maine’s public schools: Democrats know that education is the great equalizer. To that end, we fought hard for stronger public education this session. We prioritized the needs and demands of Maine students by passing bills that help our teachers become better trained and more effective and also hold them accountable. We restored cuts to the early education program Head Start and we increased funding for K-12 by more than $35 million. This decision puts Maine on a legitimate path for the state to fulfill its promise to fund 55 percent of K-12 education per the will of the voters.
Saving money and energy: We passed a bipartisan, comprehensive energy plan that encourages efficiency and will help reduce heating and electric costs for homeowners, businesses and municipalities. The new law creates incentives for homeowners to move away from inefficient oil heating systems to modern alternative heating systems. It also allows municipalities to be in charge of what source of electricity they use for street lighting. And, importantly, the measure continues Maine’s commitment to the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, which has contributed to reductions in New England’s greenhouse gas emissions.
A family doctor for every family: Perhaps one of the most talked-about measures this session was the Legislature’s fight to accept federal health care dollars to expand health care. Despite gaining bipartisan support, we fell a couple votes short of ensuring that more families in Maine could have access to a family doctor. Gov. LePage senselessly vetoed this critical measure that would have saved lives, created jobs and made health care more affordable to more people. We will keep fighting to get health care and introduce this bill again next year.
Our work is not yet done. We need to do more to help strengthen our economy. We move forward with critical job investments such as bonds for our roads and bridges, our natural resources, and research and development. While we have much work, Democrats won’t stop standing up for Maine values. We will continue to work on behalf of Maine people.
Justin Alfond of Portland is president of the Maine Senate. Mark Eves of North Berwick is speaker of the Maine House.