AUGUSTA — With Democrats solidly controlling the Legislature, there are many in the business community worried that what they considered to be business-friendly legislation passed by the Republican-controlled Legislature will be undone. The new Democratic leaders say they should not be worried.
“There is a concern out there, I hear it,” said Chris Hall, vice president of the Greater Portland Regional Chamber. He has cautioned those in the business community that repeal of legislation like regulatory reform or tax cuts will be hard to accomplish, even if the Democrats wanted to repeal any measures.
“The governor still has the veto power, and I don’t see him changing his mind on these issues of importance to the business community,” he said.
Dana Connors, president of the Maine Chamber of Commerce, agreed and said he does not think the Democrats will seek to repeal many of the business-friendly measures that were passed.
“Regulatory reform was a bipartisan effort,” he said, “I don’t think you will see the Democrats seeking to undo something they were a part of creating.”
But he agreed with Hall that there are concerns the Democrats will seek to undo some of the progress that was made under the GOP. He said many in the business community believe that the Republicans are more business friendly than the Democrats.
David Clough, state director of the National Federation of Independent Businesses, said there is widespread concern and the Democrats will need to match action to their rhetoric. He said many fear Democrats will pass legislation driving up the cost of doing business.
“There is talk of paid family leave and paid sick leave and bumping the minimum wage to ten dollars an hour and an increase in unemployment benefits,” he said.
Sen. Justin Alfond, D-Portland, the Democratic nominee to be Senate president, said he is a small business owner and a pro-capital Democrat. He said Democrats will be there to help create jobs with a better business climate and that current policies are not generating the economic growth the state needs to prosper.
“We will work to make sure people know Maine is a good place to invest in,” Alfond said.
Newly elected Senate Majority Leader Seth Goodall, D-Richmond, said the business community should look to the track record of Democrats and not preconceived opinions. He worked on the regulatory reforms that were passed and said both parties deserve credit for reducing the regulatory burden on business.
“Regulatory reform is a good example of what we hope to accomplish going forward this session in making a better business climate and encouraging growth,” he said. “There is much common ground.”
Rep. Seth Berry, D-Bowdoinham, the newly elected House majority leader, agreed with the Senate leaders. But, he said, there are areas of disagreement with the Republicans, such as insurance-law changes and tax cuts.
“It should be very clear to everyone that Democrats want taxes that are fair to the middle class and right now they are not,” he said.
“We will be looking at making the tax code fairer.”
Berry said it is premature to say that means that upper-income Mainers will be asked to pay more in taxes. He said it is also likely some of what Republicans call “health insurance reform” will face changes.
“PL (public law) 90, also known as L.D. 1333, was very detrimental to a lot of small businesses,” he said. “That law fundamentally picked winners and losers and, as Democrats, we believe in a level playing field for all.”
Rep. Ken Fredette, R-Newport, the newly elected House minority leader, said the concerns raised by those in the business community are legitimate. But, he said, the bipartisan work on the budgets last session shows the parties can work together.
“I think the tax-cut package we passed was a good one.” he said. “We removed 70,000 people from the tax rolls and reduced one of the highest marginal (income) tax rates in the nation. “
Fredette also said it is premature to discuss changing the health insurance legislation because not all of its provisions have taken effect. He said in the first session of every Legislature,s lawmakers can introduce any measure they want, but that does not mean it will be passed.