January 9

FROM THE STATE HOUSE: Resolutions represent fiscal responsibility, economic growth, compassion

Sen. Mike Thibodeau & Rep. Ken Fredette

Both of us probably could afford to get in better shape or nix a bad habit or two this year, but with the Maine Legislature reconvening this month, our New Year’s resolutions are focused on what we want to accomplish in Augusta to bring more prosperity and opportunity to our state.

After initial opposition by Democrats and the much-publicized political firestorm that ensued, Rep. Amy Volk, R-Scarborough, has managed to introduce a measure that would allow courts to vacate the prostitution convictions of women who are forced into the sex trade by duress or coercion.

We resolve to advocate tirelessly for this legislation because too many women in Maine fall victim to this horrible crime, and local experts say the problem is growing. Whether the Legislature passes Volk’s bill or a more comprehensive measure, we must help the women and girls who fall victim to this vicious underground trade and bring justice to those who ensnare them in it.

Second, we will fight for common-sense reforms to Maine’s ever-growing welfare system. Whether we are talking to our neighbors at the local post office or reading the feedback from constituent surveys, it is clear that Mainers of all parties believe that reducing welfare spending, tightening up eligibility and implementing sensible rules that ensure accountability are some of the best things we can do for our state right now.

They are right. Maine’s welfare spending has doubled during the past 20 years without any change to our poverty rate. It now ranks second in the nation as a share of overall state spending. Aside from hurting our budget, perpetuating a cycle of intergenerational welfare dependency is hurting our economy.

Despite the wide consensus throughout the state that something must be done, Democrats repeatedly have said “no” to every single welfare reform to come before them in a stubborn defense of the status quo. That’s why we resolve to do everything we can to convince our reasonable friends across the aisle to pass the reform bills we have proposed. One would tighten up exceptions to the work search requirement for cash welfare. Another would simply require that able-bodied people looking for cash welfare benefits must apply for at least three jobs before receiving public assistance. A third, introduced by Gov. Paul LePage, would limit the use of EBT cards to prevent welfare benefits from being used to buy items such as alcohol, cigarettes and lottery tickets.

Third, we are committed in 2014 to preventing a massive expansion of medical welfare under Obamacare to 70,000 able-bodied adults — most of them young, single, childless men. Maine Democrats over the years have expanded Medicaid repeatedly to the point where we built up a massive debt to our hospitals and face huge budget shortfalls every year. The Obamacare proposal would cost Maine $75 million per year and up.

Further, every promise that has been made — and continues to be made — to push Medicaid expansion has fallen flat, including the myths of reduced usage of emergency rooms, less charity care from hospitals and higher rates of coverage. Harvard recently released a study finding that Medicaid expansion actually increases emergency room usage by 40 percent. Add that to President Barack Obama’s broken promises surrounding his massive government health care takeover and you have the makings of a serious and costly disappointment.

In fact, we believe that expanding medical welfare under Obamacare would be the biggest fiscal disaster in Maine’s history.

Besides, many of those who would be covered are eligible for subsidized private plans at no risk to the state budget. The rest could benefit greatly from the dramatic rate decreases we’re seeing as a result of the statewide health reform law passed in Maine by Republicans in 2011.

Our final resolution is to advocate for a policy that would do more to bring jobs to Maine than any other reform. Making Maine the 25th right-to-work state would allow workers to choose whether they want to pay union dues and participate in collective bargaining. It also would create certainty for employers deciding whether to locate in Maine.

States with right-to-work laws on the books are seeing more jobs and faster wage growth. Maine needs to join this economic renaissance sweeping the nation if we are to truly reform our economy and bring us out of the economic doldrums for good.

These are just a few of many possible New Year’s resolutions, but they represent the fiscal responsibility, the economic growth and the compassion of which Maine is capable. Citizens who share these goals are invited to get involved and make our New Year’s resolutions their own.

Sen. Mike Thibodeau of Waldoboro is the Republican leader in the Maine Senate. Rep. Ken Fredette of Newport is the Republican leader in the Maine House of Representatives.
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