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In Augusta, the weird and wacky also get their day in the sun

Bills that should not even be up for discussion are taking time away from important issues.

 

The brand of democracy practiced at the Maine Legislature is unbridled populism -- every idea from the weird and the wacky to the most thoughtful and articulate is treated just the same way.

In fact, the weird and wacky often end up taking more time than the thoughtful -- just because in Maine's system all of these bills are likely to get not only a hearing but actually get a floor vote.

Therefore, one must head off every weird bill in hope it gets an ONTP (ought not to pass) vote in Committee.

Case in point: LD 1185, a bill to end employment at will, sponsored by Senator Margaret Craven, D-Biddeford.

Here is a bill whose impact in practice would be similar to giving tenure to all private sector employees. It is a bill that would never get serious consideration in most states. If ever passed, it would surely limit Maine's ability to attract or retain business.

Still, it got a most serious hearing at the Labor Committee. Thankfully, the Committee voted 11-2 ought not to pass.

Nonetheless, the Maine State Chamber is concerned enough about the floor debate to suggest their members call their representatives on this one.

Then there is LD 1028, sponsored by Representative Alan Cassavant, D-Biddeford.

This bill strips corporations of constitutional rights. Basically, it is part of the effort to restrict the activities and to tax Nestl Waters North America, which owns the Poland Spring brand, for water extraction.

No matter that Poland Spring uses less than 1 percent of the water used for commercial purposes in Maine and happens to be one of our best employers and a model corporate citizen.

This is another bill that would put Maine in that pantheon of one or two states that are simply inimical to business in general.

According to the Attorney General's Office, it is probably unconstitutional to boot. Representative Cassavant is a teacher at Biddeford High. He should do his homework more carefully.

Nonetheless, this bill will have a multi-hour hearing this week. Who knows what might happen?

The fact that bills like these -- and there are many others almost as bad -- get serious consideration in Augusta raises the question: "Where is the adult supervision?"

The Legislature is not exactly out of control, but it is extraordinarily undisciplined in its approach to legislation.

We citizens are not being well-served when, in the midst of the most difficult recession in memory, the Legislature is taking much of its time pummeling business.

Let's help create a few jobs, not make it even more difficult to do business in Maine.

Poland Spring is no doubt figuring out a way right now to expand in places other than Maine.

How many times do we need to remind the Legislature that jobs drive economic growth and that economic growth provides revenue with which to fund state programs.

Meanwhile, somewhat lost in the press given to such initiatives as the "special" tax on Poland Spring, there has been surprisingly little attention given to the governor's proposals to cover a new $570 million budget gap.

State revenues continue to shrink, forcing reductions in the state budget beyond those already proposed.

To the degree there is any press comment on this, the governor has been generally lauded for not raising taxes.

Technically, his proposals will end up raising local taxes, deferring as many difficult decisions as he can, and pushing things out so the next governor will have to deal with them.

He is once again deferring fundamental structural issues in Medicaid and in K-12 education spending.

Certainly, there is pain in these proposals, and I would not want to have to deal with the situation this governor is facing. Nonetheless, once the national economy recovers, Maine will be faced with an even greater structural deficit.

Efforts to spur economic growth will continue to be thwarted.

We are destined to "muddle" along until new leadership both in the State House and the Legislature faces our chronic overspending issues honestly and squarely.

The kind of economic crisis we find ourselves in is actually an opportunity for such leadership.

Perhaps I should say "was" an opportunity for such leadership.

Now it is left to Appropriations Committee to reconcile the governor's proposals with their sense of legislative priorities and what can legitimately be left to the next biennium.

They will be burning the midnight oil.