With the results of the election in and the dynamic in the State House changed for the next two years, it is time to start talking about what direction we want Maine to take.
During our two years in the legislative majority, Republicans made some tough and oftentimes unpopular decisions to bring fiscal responsibility and dramatic reforms to state government. Now Democrats will set the agenda.
Although we are now in the minority, Republicans fully intend to continue to introduce positive solutions to Maine’s many challenges. It is important to share our vision for the future, making our ideas and proposals clear, and not simply get caught up in an effort to stop Democrats.
Nationally, Republicans have come under fire for attacking Obamacare without proposing an alternative to it. While this may be due to the fact that Democrats have controlled the presidency and one or both chambers in Congress, and therefore the agenda, for the past four years, it speaks to the partisan nature of Washington that the minority party often sees it as frivolous or futile to introduce their own major reforms.
Fortunately, in Maine we do things differently. When Republicans were in control, we passed budgets on a two-thirds basis and rallied Democratic support for major initiatives, such as charter schools and regulatory reform. Many Democrat-sponsored bills became law, and many of their ideas were incorporated into Republican-sponsored bills.
Republicans have been advocating many common-sense policies, and we look forward to the opportunity to continue to bring those ideas forward, regardless of which party is in the majority.
First, we must connect our education system with our job market. Too often, students graduate from high school or college without the specific skills they need to start a good career — not just a job.
One of the things legislators hear from businesses all the time is that good positions are available, but it is difficult to find workers with the skills and qualifications that they require.
Earlier this year, we passed a bill to expand electrical apprenticeship opportunities for high school and community college students, along with other measures to strengthen vocational schools.
In the upcoming session, the Legislature should pass more bills that offer career-specific training to our students in high-demand fields such as computer science, health care and building trades. We owe it to our young people and to our economy to use the state’s stewardship of the education system to improve opportunities for young people.
Second, I would like to see more government reform to cut costs and improve the efficiency of services to Mainers.
In the past two years, we uncovered waste, fraud and abuse at the Maine Turnpike Authority and unnecessary expenses by Maine State Housing Authority.
There are many more agencies to explore, and the next Legislature should empower OPEGA — its non-partisan investigative office — to continue to audit state government and help us save money and improve efficiencies by enacting sensible legislation.
Third, we need to work with the governor to reduce our electricity costs, which are the 12th highest in the nation.
According to a recent study, Maine households pay an extra $76 million per year for electricity above the national average. High electricity costs reduce disposable income, leading to the creation of fewer jobs. According to London Economics International LLC, 817 additional jobs could have been created in Maine if electricity costs were lower.
Much of the problem can be linked to renewable portfolio standards (RPS), which mandate the use of more expensive sources of electricity in the interest of environmentalism.
For the first campaign season in years, Democrats didn’t run on extreme environmentalism, probably because they realized that jobs should come first. We agree, and we look forward to working with them to continue to realign our state’s policies with the objective of job growth.
We saw a net increase of more than 7,400 private-sector jobs from June 2011 to June 2012 thanks to new, pro-growth policies enacted in the last Legislature. We’d like to see that trend continue.
All of these reforms — helping students find careers, cleaning up state government and reducing energy costs — are things we believe the Democrats also support.
Election season is over, and there should be no reason why we cannot get these things done for the people of Maine.
Rep. Deborah Sanderson, R-Chelsea, has been re-elected to her second term in the Maine House of Representatives.