February 26, 2010

Baldacci strikes the 'right tone' for tough times, observers say

ETHAN WILENSKY

— By -LANFORD

Kennebec Journal

Many lawmakers and observers said Thursday that Gov. John Baldacci's final State of the State speech struck the right balance for uncertain times.

''I thought he hit the right tone,'' said Rep. Patricia Sutherland, D-Chapman. ''He was realistic, with some hope. I think Maine people are 'cut to the chase' people, and would accept nothing less from the governor.''

Baldacci highlighted achievements of his seven years in office as well as plans for the future, particularly in the areas of renewable energy, government efficiency, education and forest conservation.

''I think that it was appropriately balanced,'' said House Minority Leader Josh Tardy, R-Newport.

But perhaps the most substantial new idea the governor raised -- merit-based teacher pay -- was received with less enthusiasm.

Baldacci cited ''no less of an authority than Randi Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers,'' who has acknowledged that merit pay is needed.

But Sutherland, House co-chairwoman of the Education and Cultural Affairs Committee, wasn't ready to sign on.

''We certainly look forward to examining what he proposes,'' she said. ''We need to have that discussion with our education partners: the Maine State Superintendents Association, the Maine Principals Association, the Maine Education Association and other professionals involved with our schools at the local levels.''

Baldacci received bipartisan applause for his stance against raising taxes to balance the budget.

''I think if you came in from in from another state, you would almost wonder if this was a Republican governor speaking,'' said Jim Melcher, associate professor of political science at the University of Maine at Farmington.

Response took a more partisan tone when it came to a new tax reform law that could be repealed in a June referendum.

''Last spring, we passed legislation that cuts income taxes in Maine,'' Baldacci said. ''The Wall Street Journal editorial page called it the 'Maine Miracle.'''

Democrats cheered, joined by one or two Republicans, but others in the GOP were critical.

Sen. David Trahan, R-Lincoln, led the effort to collect signatures for the repeal effort.

''To think that raising nearly 100 taxes on services and items while cutting taxes on the wealthy is somehow a good thing -- while at the same time giving people in the ski and golf industries a free ride -- is out of touch with people in Maine,'' Trahan said.

But Sen. Joseph Perry, D-Bangor, who crafted the law, said critics were inconsistent.

''I just found it odd that the Republicans cheered like crazy that there would be no new taxes in this budget, but sat on their hands when they had a chance to weigh in on this tax cut,'' he said.

MaineToday Media State House Reporter Ethan Wilensky-Lanford can be contacted at 620-7015 or at:

ewlanford@mainetoday.com

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