Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Sippy Cups vs. Jobs - A False Choice

Rally for Maine
Hundreds of Mainers Rally February 14 to Oppose Environmental Rollbacks
While many Mainers were enjoying a romantic and chocolate-laden Valentine's Day, hundreds of their neighbors spent the day at the State House, where the Regulatory Fairness & Reform Committee met from 9 am until nearly 7 pm taking testimony on LD 1 and the Governor's Phase 1 regulatory reform plan, including a 48-page amendment that was handed to the Committee during the public hearing. The testimony was overwhelmingly in opposition to the Governor's plan, echoing what we heard at 7 regional hearings over the past 3 weeks - watch the videos here.  
On Monday, the Committee heard from the Governor's legal counsel, Dan Billings, who made it clear that while several of the most controversial rollbacks in in Phase 1 were left out of the amendment (for example, the Kids-Safe Products Act, banning Bis-A from sippy cups, clean air protections, eliminating LURC and zoning 3 million acres for development), Governor LePage has NOT backed away from these rollbacks and will be supporting legislation to implement them as we go forward.   
Even the "slimmed down" 48-page amendment has plenty of controversial provisions, including rolling back waste disposal rules to federal standards, which could allow heavy metal-contaminated garbage incinerator ash to be used in road paving.  The Secretary of State  offered his own novel plan giving him unilateral authority to temporarily halt any regulation deemed an undue burden on business.  This authority is currently reserved to the courts. The Secretary's proposal also raises separation-of-powers constitutional questions, since he is elected by the Legislature and would have authority under his plan to override Executive Branch decisions, something the Legislature is proscribed from doing without enacting new laws. 
Governor LePage's amendment still would make federal law the default standard and includes abolishing the citizen Board of Environmental Protection.  As I've noted before, his spokeswoman stated that to create jobs, Maine should adopt Mississippi's 6-page hazardous waste rules instead of our more complex regulation.  The Mississippi River is #1 on the most polluted rivers list, and that state's lax standards haven't translated into jobs - Maine's December unemployment rate of  7.3% is below the national average, while Mississippi topped out at 9.7%.   
As former Speaker Hannah Pingree points out, the Kids-Safe law is based on science and its repeal wouldn't create a single Maine job.  If we could just stick to cutting out red tape and helping businesses navigate government, as the BDN suggests, we could accomplish a lot.  Instead the Governor is recklessly bulldozing decades of bipartisan policy that protects Maine people and supports our tourist, fishing, forestry and other industries - and the "Maine Brand" that makes our state so special.  Choosing between safe sippy cups and jobs is a false choice and one we should reject - while we redouble our efforts to improve the economy through strategic investments and tax, health care, education and energy policy changes as outlined in the Chamber of Commerce report Making Maine Work

Sunday, February 6, 2011


As I tour the State of Maine as a member of the Legislature's Regulatory Fairness & Reform Committee, I have been thinking hard about how jobs are created.  The soundbite "government doesn't create jobs, businesses do," and its corollary "government just needs to get out of the way" for jobs to return are both missing the point in my view. I recently had the opportunity to visit with University of Maine students conducting complex research in the biosciences lab, during the Legislative economic development bus tour last month.  Students and faculty at UMO, funded with federal grants and state R&D bonds, as well as general taxpayer funding for the University, are doing amazing research turning wood into jet fuel and building wooden bridges that are stronger than steel.   Fortunately, because Maine taxpayers have supported bond issues and funded higher education, government is NOT "getting out of the way" but instead partnering with the University, which is in turn partnering with numerous businesses, such as Augusta's Kenway Corporation, resulting in new jobs and even brand-new industries.
This approach to job creation is consistent with the recent report of the Maine Chamber of Commerce which did NOT suggest repealing our environmental laws, but rather improving education and supporting research & development. While many jobs are created by businesses, many are also created by nonprofits - something I was reminded of when the Maine Association of Nonprofits visited the State House recently.  A 2010 report found that Maine nonprofits both create jobs and contribute to the economic vitality of the State.  During the last quarter of 2008, nonprofits provided 82,823 jobs, employing 1 in 7 Maine workers, making the nonprofit sectior the second largest employer in the state behind the retail industry - and they paid over $3.1 billion in wages in 2008.   

As I listen to testimony this coming week at the regulatory reform hearings in Sanford, South Portland and Bangor, I'm going to be thinking about not only how regulations may hamper business, but also how balanced investments by the State and responsible regulation can actually support businesses and spur innovation. The recent chairlift deraillment at Sugarloaf has shone a spotlight on the important role of regulators in the ski industy. Vermont's economy is synonymous with maple syrup and skiing, and it regulates the heck out of both - which benefits jobs.  

As reaffirmed by a federal report , the economic meltdown and worldwide recession was caused not only by greed and self-dealing by financial institutions and other Wall Street institutions, but also by the failure of financial regulators to properly intervene. Governor LePage's spokeswoman has stated that to create jobs, Maine should adopt Mississippi's 6-page hazardous waste rules instead of our 40 page opus.  Isn't it amazing, then, that Maine had a December unemployment rate of  7.3% while Mississippi topped out at 9.7%?  What gives? I think all legislators are focused on trying to create jobs; but let's remember we wouldn't be facing such high unemployment and economic distress had the financial industry acted more responsibly and government regulated more.