By Sen. Lois Snowe-Mello
The 125th Legislature has concluded its legislative business. The Senate will reconvene briefly in September to consider gubernatorial nominations, but I am pleased to report that we have accomplished a lot on your behalf in a short period of time.
I can’t begin to tell you what an honor it is to represent you in the Maine Senate and to have contributed to one of the most transformative legislatures in recent memory. I am grateful for the trust you have placed in me to work for the citizens of District 15, our region and the State of Maine.
When this Legislature first convened in January 2011, few believed that we could accomplish much beyond addressing a budget shortfall that was close to $1 billion. Even fewer thought that we could do so in a predominantly bipartisan way.
We conducted our work in extraordinarily difficult times, with a “can do” approach, knowing that people and families are struggling. We have sought to move Maine forward, do more with limited resources, and protect our most vulnerable citizens.
Consider the following significant legislative achievements enacted by this legislature:
• Lowered income tax rates while relieving 70,000 low-income Mainers from having to pay state income tax. For when prosperity returns, we set in statute a goal of returning excess revenues (above and beyond the budgeted needs of state government) to taxpayers rather than creating new programs.
• Reformed our health insurance system to make health insurance more available and affordable for the 133,000 Mainers without health insurance. Several columns have already attested to the positive impact that PL 90 is having: lowering insurance premiums and bringing new products to the market. I anticipate that trend will continue when the law is fully implemented and people can purchase insurance across state lines.
• Regulatory fairness and reform legislation that begins to change the culture of state government to be more supportive of small businesses and job creation. For too long, state government has made it harder to do business and create jobs.
• Refocused our social programs on protecting Maine’s most vulnerable citizens by enacting reforms to our welfare system, and restructuring the Department of Health and Human Services. The $110 million in structural changes that we recently made will help end the annual budget shortfalls that have plagued state government. Having 35% percent more people on MaineCare than the national average has been taking its toll on taxpayers and robbing other vital functions of state government of funding.
• Exposed wasteful spending at taxpayer-funded government entities and passed legislation to provide more oversight and eliminate the potential for fraud and abuse like that uncovered at the Maine Turnpike Authority. Taxpayers have a right to expect that their tax dollars are being spent wisely.
• In addition to these areas, we enacted legislation pertaining to a number of other issues that are important to Mainers. The general effective date for nonemergency laws passed in the Second Regular Session of the 125th Legislature is Thursday, August 30, 2012.
I hope you will agree that working together we solved many seemingly intractable problems while laying the groundwork for future prosperity and economic opportunities. It is both an honor and a privilege to serve you in the Maine Senate. Please accept my thanks and best wishes for an enjoyable summer.
Senator Lois Snowe-Mello chairs the Marine Resources Committee and is a member of the Insurance and Financial Services Committee. She represents Maine Senate District 15, which includes the Androscoggin County communities of Auburn, Durham, and Poland along with New Gloucester in Cumberland County.