If it seemed as though members of the Maine Legislature had a lot of bills to consider during their recently concluded session, it’s because they did. Legislators introduced a mind-numbing total of 1,587 bills, eventually passing about 600 of them.

With so much work to do, so much information to process, it figured that lawmakers would have good days and bad, that they would chalk up some impressive accomplishments and perhaps more than a few failures.

The first session of the 125th Legislature was a test drive to some extent as legislators set up shop with Republican majorities in both the House of Representatives and the Senate, and a Republican governor in the Blaine House for the first time since 1966.

The GOP majority went about its business under the pressure of high expectations by voters who sent them to the State House and also under a cloud of skepticism from those who questioned Republicans’ ability to exert leadership after laboring so long in the shadow of gavel-wielding Democrats.

Democrats, meanwhile, had to learn how to play the role of “loyal opposition,” advancing their issues while standing against elements of the Republican agenda that they and the voters who elected them would find unacceptable.

It was a steep learning curve for all concerned, and there is no objective way to measure success or failure. With that in mind, we offer today a totally subjective report card on the Legislature’s handling of several key issues.


TAXES, Grade: B

The Legislature moved in the right direction on this critical issue, providing desperately needed relief to overburdened taxpayers, while shifting resources away from the bottomless pit of state government and into the private sector with an eye toward generating economic growth. Maine still needs a drastic overhaul of its tax structure and needs to lower income tax rates beyond the token decrease enacted this year, but lawmakers made a good start when they cut taxes by more than $150 million.


The Republican majority basically steamrolled Democrats with a health insurance overhaul that promises to lower costs and expand purchasing options for Mainers as they navigate the insurance marketplace. We supported most of the elements of the bill, but we were disappointed with the process that led to its passage. Democrats in the Legislature and other opponents of the changes raised legitimate questions that should have been answered before the majority imposed such drastic changes to the health care system. We’re optimistic that the new system will provide all or most of the benefits promised by Republicans, but we cannot condone the partisan approach they employed in its passage.


Republicans’ determination to improve the state’s business climate by reforming the regulatory system was embodied in a bill labeled L.D. 1. The bill started out as a divisive and controversial proposal that opponents saw as an attempt to dismantle the state’s environmental protections but ended as a triumph of bipartisanship, removing or changing a number of burdensome rules that had frustrated Maine businesses and hindered economic development. The bill passed unanimously in the Senate and won near-unanimous support in the House on its way to a signing ceremony where Gov. Paul LePage proudly made good on what was perhaps the most important campaign promise of his 2010 election bid.



Another step in the right direction as the state moved toward addressing the unfunded liability that has plagued the state’s pension system. LePage proposed more stringent measures than the Legislature delivered, but changes in the benefit structure and retirement age for future retirees will go a long way toward dealing with an issue that constantly looms as a potential crisis threatening the ability of state government to provide services and meet its other financial obligations.


More progress, although far short of what LePage envisioned in his campaign and in the budget proposal he submitted to the Legislature. The governor promised to change the culture of dependency that he and many others believe has made Maine a welfare haven and a magnet for non-Mainers in search of government assistance. There is more to do in this area.


At long last, lawmakers saw fit to authorize charter schools, a staple of other states’ efforts to improve the quality of public education. The bill enacted by the Legislature and signed by the governor amounted to a limited, toe-in-the-water experiment, but it was a major breakthrough in comparison to the close-minded rejection of charter schools that has prevailed in past legislative sessions. Much still needs to be done to lift Maine out of the educational hole it has dug for itself, particularly in the areas of school funding and teacher accountability, but the approval of charter schools counts as a major accomplishment by this Legislature.


BUDGET, Grade: A

As with regulatory reform, legislators came together in an impressive display of bipartisanship to construct a $6.1 billion two-year budget that calls for both spending cuts and tax relief. LePage wanted more of both but signed the bill and promised to renew his attack on government spending when the Legislature reconvenes next January. On this one, the grade is based as much on the orderly and effective process as on the result.


Too much time wasted at the start of the session on irrelevancies such as whoopie pies. Too many bills left until the final days. Some things never change.


With a few notable exceptions — the health insurance debate, to name one — lawmakers behaved themselves very well, although Democrats inexplicably spent the final hours of the session carping about Republican arrogance and inefficiency. You’d think that shoe had never been on the other foot.


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