March 2, 2011

Gov.-elect Paul LePage asks Maine businesses to help him reduce rules

He gets a standing ovation at the forum, which excludes environmental and consumer groups.

By Tom Bell tbell@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

AUGUSTA — Gov.-elect Paul LePage is asking businesses and industry groups to help him reduce regulations that they believe hinder economic development.

He began this effort Tuesday in an unprecedented meeting at the Augusta Civic Center, where he asked about 100 businesspeople for their ideas – and political support when he presents a package of regulatory reform bills to the Legislature.

"What can we do to assist you to provide better jobs in Maine?" LePage asked the crowd.

Absent from the forum were environmental groups, public health advocates and consumer advocates, who were not invited. LePage said those groups will have a chance to weigh in on his proposals as part of the legislative process.

The approach drew criticism.

Peter Didisheim, a lobbyist for the Natural Resources Council of Maine, said past governors have reached out to all sides before submitting major legislation.

He said Maine's environmental laws were written over 50 years with broad bipartisan support. Before LePage submits legislation to roll them back, he should at least take time to hear from people who offer a different perspective, Didisheim said.

"There are many voices that need to be heard," he said. "This is not a balanced and fair approach to the policy process."

Tuesday's forum was sponsored by the Maine Business Association Roundtable, a group of lobbyists for chambers of commerce and trade groups that represent general contractors, merchants, auto dealers and real estate agents.

Twenty-eight representatives of those groups sat at a table with LePage and listed an assortment of regulations that they described as well-intended but burdensome: regulations related to the environment, civil rights, public health, child labor laws and tax policy.

The business leaders, however, urged LePage to focus first on improving Maine's economic climate, rather than spearheading groundbreaking legislation.

"Resist all efforts to create a first-in-the-nation anything," said Steve DiMillo, whose family owns DiMillo's Floating Restaurant in Portland.

The group gave LePage a standing ovation, and several veteran business lobbyists said afterward that they had never seen such a meeting between a governor-elect and businesspeople, calling it "remarkable" and "refreshing."

Businesspeople in Maine are used to government leaders telling them what to do, said Anne Gauthier, who heads the public affairs office for National Semiconductor in South Portland and chairs the Portland Regional Chamber.

"Today, for the first time, we feel like we are part of the solution," she said.

LePage said he wants state regulators to stop erecting roadblocks, and to work in partnership with the business community to create jobs.

Tuesday's meeting was the first step in what the governor-elect calls his "red-tape removal audit." LePage said he wants other businesses and business organizations around the state to hold local meetings and develop ideas for legislative action.

He said he plans to introduce a package of regulatory reform bills, but will need the business community's political support.

"We need you to help challenge the Legislature," he said. "We are already on your side."

In an interview after the meeting, LePage said he wants to find the right balance between job creation and quality of life.

He also said comments made at the meeting reinforced his belief that state regulation is hindering economic growth.

"It's far worse than what I thought," he said.

 

MaineToday Media State House Writer Tom Bell can be contacted at 699-6261 or at: tbell@mainetoday.com

 

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