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Maine Legislative Democrats: Jobs and Economy Priority No. 1
12/19/2012   Reported By: A.J. Higgins

Democratic leaders plan to make jobs and the economy priority number one when lawmakers gather in Augusta next month to convene the 126th Maine Legislature. Senate President Justin Alfond says he's in the process of forming a Joint Select Committee on Maine's Workforce and Economic Future. As A.J. Higgins reports, the committee will be charged with reporting out legislation to strengthen Maine's workforce and help Maine's small businesses thrive.

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Democratic Maine Senate President Justin Alfond says Maine needs a short term plan to jump-start its economy, and a long-term vision of Maine's economic future. To accomplish that goal, he and House Speaker Mark Eves want to create a Joint Select Committee on Maine's Workforce and Economic Future.

Panelists, including Republicans and Democrats, would then recommend legislation to create new jobs and build a better economy. "The goal of this is to not produce a fancy report, but to put in specific legislation that helps Maine's people, places and our businesses grow," Alfond says.

Alfond says he wants to expand on some of the ideas that were advanced in the last session of the then Republican-dominated Legislature, while also seeking out ideas from the Maine business community.

"We hope to build off of what we learned when we looked at all the regulations of last session, and we look at this as moving Maine's econopmy forward by putting together this joint select committee," Alfond says. "So we're looking forward to getting people's ideas from across the state together and putting it in this committe and getting to work."

Senate Majority Leader Seth Goodall cited statistics from the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis detailing Maine's poor economic performance last year.

"Maine's economy was the only economy in New England to go backwards last year. And the policies and priorities of the last two years were not focused on what we know we need to do," Goodall says. "And that is focusing on the workforce, helping people take advantage of opportunity so that they can get hired and then have the skills that businesses demand. In addition to that, we must focus on what we know works, and that is focusing on our small businesses and our downtowns. It's all about strengthening the middle class and getting people back to work."

Earlier, in Bangor, Gov. Paul LePage cited the need to better prepare Maine students for the jobs that are available today. LePage says that not all students should be college bound, and that it pays to match students with the right institutions. He cited the example of a Lincoln student who demonstrated world-class proficiency in welding while in high school. LePage said when the student attempted to get into community college, he was rejected.

"'Cause they don't count welding towards your core credits," LePage said. "But there's a school in Maine that really is smart - they figured it out - and that's Maine Maritime Academy, because if you're stuck in the ocean and you need a welder, English doesn't do you a damn bit of good."

A spokeswoman for Alfond said the Senate president had discussed his committee plans with Senate Republican leaders and a representative from the governor's office. House Republicans were a little miffed because they heard about the Democratic leaders plans from State House reporters. Rep. Ken Fredette of Newport is the House Republican leader.

"The Democrats continue to - seem to be having conversations with themselves and making announcements without involving Republican legislative leadership in those conversations," Fredette says.

Alfond says Democratic leaders say Lepage has still not informed them when he might meet with them to discuss the legislative session. He says members will be named to the committee in the coming weeks.



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