SANFORD – Gov. Paul LePage outlined his legislative agenda for a meeting of local business leaders Friday — a pro-business package of reforms that includes lowering the costs of energy, health insurance and state government — then urged them to lobby legislators to see it approved.

LePage told about 150 people at the annual meeting of the Sanford-Springvale Chamber of Commerce and Economic Development that the business community needs to be more involved in Augusta.

“Without your voice, we’ve already lost a major bill. ‘Right to work’ in the state of Maine is very important,” LePage said. “I got kicked in the knees and knocked down by the very people we’re trying to help, the business community.”

He said businesses feared losing customers so they didn’t step forward to support the proposal, which would make it illegal for union contracts to require workers to pay dues to help bargain and enforce the contracts.

LePage said it would be bad for Maine if neighboring New Hampshire adopts so-called right-to-work legislation. That state’s governor has vetoed such a bill, but proponents say they will try to get enough votes to override it. Currently, right-to-work states are concentrated in the South and the western Plains.

“If the state of New Hampshire votes right-to-work, it’s like putting up a fort at the bridge,” said LePage, predicting Maine would be at a further disadvantage in attracting new businesses. Already the state has extremely high electricity and health care costs, though the recently passed health insurance reform bill should help, he said.

LePage described as a compromise a legislative proposal to eliminate the “fair share” requirement — the fees paid to unions by state workers who are covered by a union contract but are not members. The payments are less than union dues, which also fund political advocacy and other union activities.

LePage did not say the fair share changes were important for business but did say they violate what he sees as a fundamental right of someone to be able to work without supporting a labor organization.

The bill eliminating fair share is scheduled for a committee hearing June 2.

LePage also told the business group he would like to see more cohesion within the Republican caucus, saying that Democrats are very unified in opposition.

Springvale Sen. John Courtney, the Senate majority leader, said there is broad support for the governor’s vision of making Maine more attractive to business as reflected in broad support for his regulatory reforms, but government doesn’t work like the business world where the chief executive makes a decision and it’s implemented.

“It’s difficult to go from the private sector to government. Now you have to build a consensus,” he said. “It’s a culture change.”

Republicans are committed to developing a budget that has enough bipartisan support that it receives the support of two-thirds of the Legislature, he said. He faulted Democrats who threaten to withhold support for the budget because of opposition to other bills.

Sanford Town Councilor Brad Littlefield said after the breakfast meeting at Mousam View Place that the governor’s pro-business agenda plays well in Sanford, which led the state in home foreclosures and typically has an unemployment rate 2 percentage points higher than the Maine average.

Littlefield said LePage has supported the town’s call for a turnpike spur to promote economic development, though it wasn’t addressed Friday.

“Sanford has seen significant challenges,” he said. “It does make it easier to have a governor who is pro-business.”

Staff Writer David Hench can be contacted at 791-6327 or at:

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