Only a few weeks ago, the newly elected lawmakers of the 126th Maine Legislature met for the first time.
The challenges before us are great. We face a sluggish Maine economy with 50,000 Maine people still out of work. We rank dead last in the country for personal income growth. And, while many states in the country are recovering from the recession, Maine’s economy has slipped backwards.
We must do better. With every challenge there comes opportunity.
Democrats are ready to meet that challenge and opportunity head on.
We hope our Republican colleagues and the governor will join us — the problems we face are too big for one party to solve alone.
First, Democrats are committed to a positive vision for our state.
Over the past year, Democratic lawmakers have heard from hundreds of thousands of Maine people. It is clear Mainers and business leaders want a new, civil tone for this state.
They want our leaders to market our state as a positive place to visit, live and work.
Like so many parents and grandparents in our state, I personally want to see my three young children have the opportunity to get a good education in our schools, get good-paying jobs when they graduate and stay here in Maine to raise families of their own.
We believe in Maine and Maine people.
Second, Democrats have outlined our plan for strengthening our economy and growing the middle class in our state.
We will focus on four key areas: work force development, education, lowering the costs of energy and health care and investing in infrastructure and research and development.
Ingenuity and hard work are built into Maine people, but we need to give them the skills they need to compete. As leaders, we must use our resources and private sector partners to close the gap and get ahead of the curve.
To address this, Democrats have formed a special committee, the Joint Select Committee on Maine’s Work Force and Economic Future.
The committee will work with work force experts, economists, small business and industry leaders to formulate solutions to address Maine’s work force challenges.
We believe if we make targeted investments that strengthen the skill sets of Maine workers, our economy will thrive and the middle class will grow.
Nothing is more important for a vibrant economy and robust middle class than a well-prepared work force.
We want the classroom to be the best learning environment it can be. That means supporting early education and strengthening our public schools, not undercutting them or our teachers.
The Legislature must work to put more money in the pockets of Maine families and small businesses, so they can spend it locally and help create jobs. We can do this by lowering energy and health care costs.
Solving Maine’s energy challenges will require short- and long-term solutions, such as supporting energy efficiency now and diversifying our energy resources for the future.
We must also address our health care challenges.
This means fixing the health insurance laws passed last session, which allowed insurance companies to hike rates on Mainers — with many Maine businesses seeing increases upwards of 90 percent.
In addition to improving the law, we must work to provide long-term solutions that lower the cost of health care by placing greater emphasis on the prevention and treatment of chronic illness.
It is impossible to cut our way to prosperity. Blindly slashing health care for the elderly, low-income families and people with disabilities has not worked.
We must truly reform our anti-poverty programs to ensure that more Maine people can climb into the middle class — not fall out of it.
Lastly, we need an economic investment package that will fix our crumbling roads and bridges. A strong transportation network is vital for interstate commerce and people who need to get to their jobs.
We must also invest in research and development, which will set us on a course for long-term job growth. Studies show every $1 of state research and development investment returns $12 in economic benefits.
We have an ambitious agenda for Maine. We are ready to do the work to get the economy going and to create jobs — now and for our future. The problems we face are too big for one party to solve alone.
Rep. Mark Eves, D-North Berwick, was elected as the 101st speaker of the Maine House on Dec. 5. He is serving his third term in the Legislature.