May 25, 2013

Our View: Work force training bill belongs in state budget

Even in a tough year, this would be a smart investment in Maine's future.

Sometimes state government gets it right. A bipartisan group of legislators came together to work on a problem, not further an agenda. They listened to the experts and the people directly affected before they wrote a bill.

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A bipartisan package of legislative proposals marshals public and private resources to train Mainers for high-paying, high-demand jobs that now go unfilled.

Working with the governor's office, they put together a package of proposals that would attack the problem from multiple angles, and they passed the bill with no real opposition. It was sent to the Appropriations Committee, where it sits waiting for the completion of the budget. This may not be the kind of thing that makes news, but it is one that could make a difference in people's lives.

The bill is L.D. 90, a comprehensive approach to worker training that marshals public and private resources to qualify Mainers for high-demand, high-paying jobs that now go unfilled.

The bill, sponsored by Senate President Justin Alfond, employs a problem-solving approach that has proven to be successful earlier, such as the 2011 Republican-led effort to streamline the state's regulatory system.

The work force committee started by listening. Members of the committee heard from businesses that say they would be willing to train employees if they had the base-level skills.

They heard from small businesses that don't have the resources for training programs, but can't grow without the right kind of workers.

They also found that Maine has some untapped resources.

About 200,000 residents have some college but not a degree. Many people who have jobs could move into higher-paying classifications with some more training. And highly skilled immigrants with professional degrees from their home country are underemployed here.

The package of reforms addresses all of these issues and more.

It puts in statute a date for community college credits to be transferable to state universities.

It ends the backlog in the community colleges for programs in certain high-demand jobs and creates an "incumbent worker program" where currently employed Mainers can acquire the skills they need to move up.

All together, the bill would cost $5 million over the next two years. Every budget line deserves extra scrutiny this year, but this would be a solid investment in Maine's future.

If for no other reason, funding this bill would be a vote of confidence in a legislative process that addressed a major problem in a constructive way. It gives future legislatures a blueprint on how it's supposed to work.


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