Saturday, December 7, 2013
By REP. ROBERT NUTTING
When a Republican majority was sworn into office a year and a half ago, few really knew what to expect.
Could a group of legislators who hadn't been in the majority for nearly four decades govern? Could we overcome the partisan bickering and gridlock that had ruled under Democrat control? Could the new majority work with the minority to tackle Maine's most pressing problems?
I am proud to say the answer to all of these questions is yes. What this Legislature has accomplished is unprecedented.
The voters of Maine decided to take a chance on Republicans who ran on a promise of cutting taxes, rolling back red tape for Maine's businesses and getting the state's financial house in order. We made significant strides in all of these areas.
This month, The Wall Street Journal ran a column titled "Obamacare in Reverse. Maine deregulates the insurance market. Premiums fall."
The article chronicles the positive changes that are a direct result of the Legislature passing L.D. 1333, a landmark piece of legislation that introduced more competition into Maine's health insurance market.
The Wall Street Journal column notes that premiums are "falling by as much as 69 percent for Maine's dominant insurer, Anthem."
That's refreshing news to policy holders who have grown accustomed to double-digit increases in their premiums.
In 2014, Maine residents will be allowed to buy health insurance across state lines, creating even more competition. Under the new law, no one can be denied coverage due to a pre-existing condition. This bold new approach to solving our health insurance problems is a vast improvement over the failed Dirigo program, and would not have been possible without new leadership in Augusta.
After consistently being named last in the country for business-friendly states by Forbes Magazine, there is a new attitude about our state: Maine is open for business.
One of the first priorities for our new Legislature was hearing firsthand from business owners all over the state about the obstacles they faced.
The result of those meetings was sweeping regulatory reform that rolled back layers of needless, redundant regulations. The state now has a small business advocate to help small businesses navigate the state's regulatory maze.
And while we still have much room for improvement, the changes are being noticed nationally. Maine placed 32nd this year in Chief Executive Magazine's eighth annual survey "CEO Opinion of Best and Worst States in which to Do Business." The previous ranking was 36th.
In addition to regulatory reform, one of the reasons cited in the survey for Maine's improved standing was the recent tax cut passed by the 125th Legislature, the largest tax cut in state history. The reductions benefit Mainers of every income level. More than 70,000 low-income filers will end up paying no state income taxes as a result of the legislation.
Maine's economy will not be turned around overnight, but we are seeing signs of progress. The state's unemployment rate is 7.2 percent, which is far too high to indicate a significant recovery, but well below the national average, which actually increased to 8.2 percent last month.
Republican leadership also demonstrated it could confront the main problem that led us to our recent financial difficulties: overspending.
Under Democrat leadership, Medicaid spending grew at an exponential rate and greatly exceeded the national average of a 79 percent increase since 2002, while the state's population only grew by 7 percent.
Year after year, the Legislature was forced to find ways to cover budget shortfalls. Too often, this was done by taking money from education, public safety and other vital government services.
The 125th Legislature made structural changes to the Department of Health and Human Services budget that puts us more in line with national norms. As a result of these changes, the safety net for those who need it most will be protected, and future legislatures will not be forced to cover shortfalls on an almost annual basis.
This Legislature proved these achievements could be made by building consensus and working across party lines. We passed six budgets, and all but one received unanimous support in the Appropriations Committee, and two-thirds majorities in the full Legislature.
Other significant achievements include pension reform that will save taxpayers $200 million annually, and more than $3 billion between now and 2028.
Savings that resulted from pension reform have already been used to fund public schools and hospitals.
We also passed new standards for Maine's public school teachers, created charter schools, anti-bullying legislation, consolidated government agencies and reformed the Land Use Regulation Commission (LURC) in a way that will give people in the unorganized territories more influence in decisions that affect their property.
I am proud of my fellow legislators for making these bold reforms that are already benefitting the people of Maine.
Rep. Robert Nutting, R-Oakland, is the Speaker of the House.