Radio address: Sen. Alfond on the budget

Posted: June 25, 2011 | Senator Alfond, Weekly Radio Address
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Good Morning. This is Assistant Democratic Leader, Senator Justin Alfond of Portland.

The legislature is days away from the end of the legislative session. And as we wrap up our work for 2011, it is important to look back at the past six months and assess what we’ve done—and what’s left to do.

Most notably, earlier this week, Governor LePage signed the state’s two year budget. I, along with many of my Democratic colleagues, embraced this budget with mixed emotion.

On one hand, I am pleased that the governor backed down from his previous threat to veto any budget that wasn’t his own. I am relieved that by signing the budget, the governor has, in a sense, endorsed the good, bipartisan work done by the Appropriations committee. It is because of the Committee’s negotiations and compromise that, in the end, the budget was retooled into something far less radical than the one put forth by the governor.

Despite the fact that this budget is far less extreme than the original, it is still not a budget that Democrats believe will move Maine forward.

Lawmakers may remember that when we were campaigning last year, Mainers expressed concerns about three major issues:

First, get Maine people back to work.

Second, improve Maine’s economy.

And, third, make health care more affordable.

It’s clear. The message is simple. In fact, it boils down to the need for security. The need to provide for your family. The need for a good life. Essentially, the need to live and let live. That is the New England way and it’s the Maine way.

My Democratic colleagues and I don’t believe that the will of the people is to pit one group of Mainers against another. We don’t believe that lawmakers in Augusta should pit northern Maine against southern Maine, the urban against the rural, the blue collar against white collar, the rich against the poor, the young against the old, or even, the Democrats against the Republicans. We are all Mainers. Whether we were born here—or moved here yesterday, we have all chosen to be Mainers.

We talk about Maine as “the way life should be”. In fact, my Republican Senate colleagues just hung up a sign in their office saying so. Well, Maine is the way life should be—and, it can, still be better. But, it can only be better if we build upon what we’ve got. And, what we’ve got is a state rich in natural resources—our clean rivers and lakes; our mountains and oceans; our forests and fields. And out of this rich landscape are the fish and lobster; berries and potatoes, and timber. It is also who we are: our sense of community. Our neighborliness. Our civic mindedness and our pride. Our independence and our “don’t-hold-me-back” attitude.

And it is to that end, I believe Maine people just want to see government work. They want it to be efficient. They want government, in whatever form it takes, to be there when they need it. And when they don’t need it, government shouldn’t intrude in their daily lives. I get it. So do my Democratic colleagues.

So in looking back at the budget and the legislative session, I think we did some things quite well and I think we missed the mark on others. Some of the most memorable—and frustrating—experiences include 52-days of discussion on the whoopie pie, the rollback of voting rights, the onslaught of gun bills and anti-choice bills, and many other issues that did nothing to spur job growth.

And when the Republican-led legislature had an opportunity to deal with the issues the people of Maine wanted us to address, we missed the mark.

What did the legislature do to get Mainers back to work and improve Maine’s economy?

Well, just this week, the GOP-majority, failed to approve a bond package even though many of the bond projects are shovel-ready, job-ready projects. This is a missed opportunity to immediately create jobs and invest in our state’s economy. Also this week, the GOP-majority saddled government with the largest unfunded tax cut in years—the state is now handcuffed by more than $550 million in tax cuts—much of which will only benefit the wealthy.

Unfortunately, Democrats’ efforts to put more money into the pockets of those who need it most were blocked by the GOP-majority. On the exact same day that tax giveaways to the wealthy were approved, Republicans rejected raising the minimum wage to $7.75 and later rejected a proven anti-poverty tool, the Earned Income Tax Credit.

But Maine workers were not without attention this session. Republicans incentivized foreign labor over Maine workers, denied health insurance benefits to laid-off workers, balanced the budget on the backs of teachers and state workers, and rolled back child labor protections.

As for health care, much was said about the health care overhaul bill LD 1333. And while some people will save money as a result of this legislation, everyone will now pay a new tax on your health care policy. And if you live in rural Maine, if you are over the age of 48, and if you have a “hazardous” job, you may be subject to higher premiums. That decision will be up to the insurance companies.

I’m reminded by something my grandfather once said to me: “Don’t tell me what you’re going to do, show me.” And so I say this to our governor and to my Republican colleagues: Please don’t tell us you’re going to give us a jobs budget and instead present us with an extreme, polarizing budget. Please don’t tell us that Maine is open for business and then, disenfranchise Maine workers.

Instead, show us. Show us like the Appropriations and the Regulatory Reform committees showed us, that by putting aside ideological rhetoric, we all, as Mainers, have something to gain.

Thank you for listening. This is State Senator Justin Alfond. Have a great weekend.