Lawmakers meet with Falmouth, Cumberland officials, business leaders

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FALMOUTH — Approximately 30 business and municipal leaders joined state legislators at the Falmouth Memorial Library last week for a discussion about proposed laws and issues in the Legislature.

The event, which was sponsored by the Falmouth and Cumberland Chamber of Commerce, is the first of what the chamber hopes will be a regular event.

“This is sort of a new initiative,” Godfrey Wood, chief executive of the Greater Portland Regional Chamber of Commerce, said. “Sometimes we ask for legislation and it helps if we have a face-to-face relationship with the legislators.”

Business owners asked Sen. Richard Woodbury, U-Yarmouth, Rep. Mark Dion, D-Portland, and Rep. Mary Nelson, D-Falmouth, about several issues, from school funding, to property tax caps for elderly homeowners, to the Right to Work bill.

“It’s very important for us as legislators to listen to you,” Nelson said. “It really helps us do our job.”

Nelson said she does not think Maine will respond the way other states have to a proposed Right to Work bill that would prohibit agreements between private companies and unions that makes union membership and dues a condition of employment.

“To demonize state workers as the cause of the problem is a very unproductive way of solving these problems,” she said.

Dion added that, as the former Cumberland County sheriff, he relied on state workers, particularly those who had served in their positions for a long time.

“I’m nervous about these long-term employees leaving. You lose a lot of institutional knowledge when they go,” Dion said. “As a former state executive, I relied on many of these people.”

Woodbury discussed Gov. Paul LePage’s proposal to freeze cost-of-living increases for state pensioners for three years and then reduce the increases from 4 percent to 2 percent after three years.

He said, as a result, school and MaineCare funding were better funded in the budget than people anticipated.

“This is giving the impression that the budget is balanced on the backs of state workers,” Woodbury said.

Nelson discussed the importance of supporting higher education as a way to support economic growth in Maine.

“I would like to spend as much as we can on education,” she said, citing statistics that 59 percent of new jobs require a post-secondary degree and that only 37 percent of Mainers have at least a two-year college education.

“We have a serious problem with higher education in this state,” she said. “We have a long way to go.”

Dion spoke about his desire to create a micro-loan program for young entrepreneurs looking to start companies as they graduate from technical colleges.

“The challenge for this generation, I tell my daughter, is that we don’t have the jobs for you. You’ll have to create them yourself,” Dion said.

Falmouth Town Councilor Teresa Pierce asked the legislators to consider creative proposals that will encourage business growth, like a recent proposal in the town of Camden that offered “free land” at a closed tannery to a company that would create a certain number of jobs in a set amount of time.

“We can’t cut our way out of this,” Pierce said. “How do we think creatively, like Camden?”

Nelson cited the new Pine Tree Development Zone tax credit to encourage business development in depressed areas and the work going on at the Brunswick Naval Air Station to bring new businesses to that area.

Emily Parkhurst can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or eparkhurst@theforecaster.net

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State Sen. Richard Woodbury, U-Yarmouth, left, and Reps. Mark Dion, D-Portland, and Mary Nelson, D-Falmouth, discussed legislative and business issues March 18 at Falmouth Memorial Library with local government officials and members of the Falmouth and Cumberland Chamber of Commerce.

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