Over the last few months, I’ve had a chance to travel around our state and talk to Mainers about what’s going on with our economy. From small business owners, to employees, to retirees, I’ve been hearing the same stories. Businesses are struggling to find and keep employees. Workers are struggling to pay their bills.  And parents of adult children are wondering when there will be opportunities for their children to move back home to Maine.

These challenges aren’t new. I grew up in the Skowhegan area and watched our local economy fall apart during the recession in 2008.  Many of my friends left the area. A few stuck around. But I also watched our town rebuild through hard work and entrepreneurial spirit from companies like Maine Grains.

But something is still wrong. All of the traditional indicators tell us that the economy is booming, new industries and opportunities abound and unemployment is at record lows. Nonetheless, business owners and working-class Mainers both face the same essential hardship: How do we survive?

To address these issues, we need to bring business owners, workers and legislators together to find solutions to not just survive, but to help our state thrive. We need to show that solutions that benefit small businesses and Maine workers are not mutually exclusive, but one in the same. And we need to tackle big issues like health care costs, long-term care, and employment laws that favor bad actors.

Our state legislators are currently considering a number of solutions to dramatically improve the quality of life for hardworking Mainers while creating a level playing field for small business and a healthier workforce that has more purchasing power which, in turn, fuels Maine’s economy.

We can start with health care. Too many working families in Maine have to choose between paying rent, buying groceries or seeing a doctor.

A slate of bills sponsored by Senate President Troy Jackson, Sen. Ned Claxton, and House Speaker Sara Gideon could provide relief. These bills would establish a commission to monitor healthcare costs in Maine and lower the cost of prescription drugs.  They would establish patient protections against abusive billing practices and put an end to surprise billing in emergency room settings.

We have to address the skyrocketing cost of living.  The high cost of living puts extraordinary pressure on young people and it’s driving them out of the state.  Meanwhile, it’s putting enormous pressure on businesses to retain and grow talent.

Our legislators have an opportunity to restore basic protections so that we’re adequately compensated for the hours we work while providing businesses with a healthier, happier, and more productive workforce. This starts with expanding overtime protections by passing a bill sponsored by Rep. Ryan Tipping. Right now, salaried employees in Maine who make more than $36,000 per year are often expected to work over 40 hours a week but they are exempt from receiving overtime. Tipping’s bill would gradually increase that floor over the next three years and help restore the 40-hour work week for Mainers.

In addition, President Jackson has sponsored a bill that would expand whistleblower protections to ensure safer workspaces and greater transparency. At the same time, Rep. Tipping has put forth legislation that would close a corporate tax loophole, resulting in millions of dollars of revenue for the state.

Another opportunity deals with home caregiver tax credits. A bill sponsored by Rep. Kristen Cloutier and President Jackson would create a tax credit for Mainers who dedicate a certain number of hours per year to unpaid caregiving.

And finally, a bill sponsored by Senate Assistant Majority Leader Eloise Vitelli takes aim at ensuring that all Mainers have an opportunity to save for retirement by creating a public-private partnership for workers who don’t have access to retirement plans through their workplace or who are self-employed.

Let’s follow their lead and work to improve the lives of hardworking Mainers, because when working families do well, Maine does well.

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