Maine GOP Policy Brief Archive

 

          For Immediate Release, September 21, 2012

                                                       

Policy Brief: Government Reform

Restoring trust in state government

In an effort to assist Republican state legislative candidates, volunteers, and activists as they engage voters on the campaign trail, the Maine Republican Party will be sending periodic briefings on the work of the 125th Legislature. Previous policy briefs can be found here.

LD 1538 – Maine Turnpike Authority (MTA) Reform

After increased oversight from the Legislature’s Office of Program Evaluation and Government Accountability (OPEGA), the Attorney General’s office investigated the MTA and identified $2.3 million spent inappropriately. The executive director, former Democratic Senate Majority Leader Paul Violette, was convicted of stealing public money and sent to prison. Examples of the MTA’s spending under Democratic oversight include:

  • $257,780 over four years on employee recognition banquets, cookouts, and service awards;
  • $297,238 on donations and sponsorships of various organizations, some being non-charitable groups with no ties to MTA’s mission; and
  • Perhaps most notoriously, Violette spent $157,000 on gift certificates from hotels and restaurants, expensing them as work-related travel costs and instead pocketing them for personal use.

OPEGA is a government oversight office that was created by Republicans. Years ago, Democrats tried to close it down in order to cut costs in the face of budget-busting welfare expansions, but the then-minority Republicans fought successfully for its survival.

The Republican Legislature enacted LD 1538 to require more oversight and accountability at the MTA. Testimony at the bill’s hearings described a rogue agency where managers found clever ways of hiding exorbitant MTA-funded trips to destinations such as Tuscany, Italy. The new law:

  • Shortened the length of terms for MTA board members;
  • Improved auditing procedures;
  • Allowed for closer legislative scrutiny of MTA budgets; and
  • Required that all purchases be subject to competitive bidding.

LD 1831 – Forfeiture of State Pensions by Criminal Public Servants

This bill was inspired by Paul Violette, the former Democratic Senate Majority Leader, lobbyist, and head of the Maine Turnpike Authority who was convicted and sent to prison for stealing public money. Existing law allowed for Violette to keep his generous public pension despite having defrauded the taxpayers of Maine for hundreds of thousands of dollars.

This bill gives courts discretion to order the forfeiture of retirement benefits of a member of the Maine Public Employees Retirement System who commits a crime in connection with the member’s public office or public employment, or a crime that the member’s position placed the member in a position to commit.

LD 1778 – Reform of Maine State Housing Authority (MSHA)

A review by OPEGA revealed that MSHA made “unnecessary” expenditures that were “not typical of a State agency.”

  • The median single family home in Maine sells for $159,000, while a so-called low income Waterville project cost taxpayers $292,000 per 1,100 square foot unit.
  • Dale McCormick squandered tens of thousands of dollars on meetings at luxury destinations, massages, magicians, karate lessons, a green energy scheme, and other frivolous expenditures.
  • The former executive director also spent taxpayers’ money on activist political organizations that have nothing to do with housing policy.

In light of these findings, Republicans led the way to a reform of MSHA to make the executive director accountable to the board. It became clear that the position of executive director was too powerful and unaccountable to the commissioners of the quasi-governmental agency, and that more oversight authority needed to be granted to the board in order to prevent the irresponsible spending on entertainment and political causes that had plagued the agency during McCormick’s tenure.

The bill vests the powers of MSHA in the board of commissioners, instead of in the executive director, and provides that the commission may delegate powers to the director where they deem appropriate. It eliminates set terms of service for the director, provides that the commissioners may vote to terminate the director, and establishes staggered terms for the commissioners so that future governors may not reappoint the entire board along political lines.

Maine Green Energy Alliance (MGEA)

MGEA, whose mission it was to use community organizing and education to expand green energy, was criticized for its close ties to the Democratic Party. The Legislature and OPEGA investigated the organization and found that it had paid Democratic legislators and candidates to perform home energy audits. Also, after receiving $1.25 million in the first year of a $3 million grant, MGEA had only completed five percent of the audits required by the grant. As a result, the program was terminated and funds were returned to the Efficiency Maine Trust.

LD 1806 – Transparency in Government

This bill makes the following changes to the laws governing financial disclosure by legislators and certain executive employees, in a much-needed attempt to bring transparency and accountability to Maine government:

  • Requires legislators to disclose incomes earned and positions held by immediate family members;
  • Requires legislators to disclose titles held and earnings over their last few years in office;
  • Requires legislators and certain employees to identify each agency to which an associated organization has sold goods or services; and
  • Requires disclosure if the legislator or employee holds certain positions with a political action committee or ballot question committee.

Summary

Recently-discovered Democratic campaign literature suggests that Democrats are trying to tout government reform as a major achievement and priority of theirs. It was their appointees, however, who caused the waste, fraud, and abuse cited above, and it was their lack of oversight that allowed it to continue for so many years.

After Democrats tried to shut down OPEGA and fought efforts to clean up waste, fraud, and abuse, their new talking point won’t pass the straight face test with voters — as long as the voters have all the information. It is up to us to prevent Maine from devolving into a Massachusetts- or Chicago-style bastion of corruption and waste.

 
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                                                                For Immediate Release, September 3, 2012
Policy Brief: Regulatory Reform


In an effort to assist Republican state legislative candidates, volunteers, and activists as they engage voters on the campaign trail, the Maine Republican Party will be sending periodic briefings on policy issues relevant to the work of the 125th Legislature. 

 Regulatory reform was the first priority of Maine’s GOP-controlled Legislature 0f 2011-2012, hence the number of the first bill featured below.  Many regulations were out of date or simply too burdensome.  Using decades of one-party rule to their advantage, Maine Democrats had built up an imposing regulatory apparatus that gave their friends in the environmental lobby virtually everything they wanted without balancing the need for private sector job growth.

 

These are some of the bills that began to hack away at that regulatory jungle.  There are many more that could arguably be included here, but these represent some of the clearest examples of relief from red tape.

 

 

LD 1 – Regulatory Fairness and Reform

LD 1 is a comprehensive overhaul of Maine’s regulatory structure. A special committee of legislators toured the state to learn firsthand from entrepreneurs how state government can help their growth by eliminating red tape and bureaucracy. The ideas were sent to specific legislative committees of jurisdiction to be refined into one comprehensive bill.

The reform:

  • Made many rules of the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) more in line with less stringent federal rules;
  • Called for state agencies to weigh both the costs and benefits of a rule under consideration, instead of just the “benefits”;
  • Created the Business Ombudsman Program to act as arbiter between businesses and state agencies;
  • Created the position of Small Business Advocate within the Secretary of State’s Office to help businesses navigate the state’s various regulatory and licensing frameworks and advocate for business before regulators and legislators;
  • Required agencies to cite information they rely upon in crafting a new regulation;
  • Eliminated confusion in the laws by explicitly stating that agency rules are not enforceable in court unless they were implemented correctly under the Administrative Procedure Act;
  • Limited the Board of Environmental Protection’s rulemaking authority and reduced its membership from 10 to 7; and
  • Allowed legislative committees to require agencies to review and change rules when requested, giving more control to the people’s elected representatives.

 

 

LD 1798 – LURC Reform

After years of public outcry from residents of northern Maine seeking balance, responsiveness, and local control at the Land Use Regulation Commission (LURC), the agency that controls land use planning in Maine’s Unorganized Territories (UT), the Legislature responded. LD 1798 enacted the following changes:

  • Changed the name of LURC to the Land Use Planning Commission (LUPC) in order to give the agency a fresh start;
  • Moved meetings, staff, and appeal hearings closer to the UT;
  • Increased board membership from seven to nine, including a nominee from each of the eight largest UT counties’ commissions and a gubernatorial appointee, in order to give more representation to the governed territories and less to Augusta;
  • Instituted staff training to improve customer service;
  • Eliminated the “demonstrated need” requirement for development, meaning that those wishing to build no longer need to prove that there is an economic or other kind of “need” for their development. Their desire to do so freely on their own property is now considered enough of a need;
  • Allowed counties to request that they be able to conduct permitting functions on their own;
  • Expanded permit-by-rule opportunities;
  • Transferred site location permitting duties to the DEP and forestry activities to the Bureau of Forestry, further limiting the power of LURC/LUPC; and
  • Required the LUPC Board to report to the Agriculture, Conservation & Forestry Committee annually to answer to organizational efficiency and customer service.

 

 

LD 1314 – Independent Contractors Defined

One of the most aggravating problems for employers was trying to prevent and fix problems stemming from the gray area of whether certain employees are subject to workers’ compensation and unemployment laws or whether they are independent contractors, exempt from those laws. This bill standardizes the definition of “independent contractor,” reducing confusion about who qualifies for workers’ comp or unemployment benefits and who does not. The bill has been hailed by job creators as one of the best things to come out of the Labor and Commerce Committee during the 125th Legislature.

 

 

LD 311 – Harbor Dredging

Harbor towns routinely faced burdensome obstacles when trying to dredge their harbors to allow for safe passage of fishing and recreational boats. The town of Wells, for example, recently spent $180,000 and four years simply to obtain a dredging permit from the DEP. That is unacceptable. This bill allows for maintenance dredging, whereby towns may obtain an original permit for dredging and then dredge the same amount within 10 years again without obtaining another permit. That is common sense.

 

 

LD 862 – Increased Lifespan of Permits

Prior to the enactment of this bill, permits issued by the DEP required that development activities begin within two years of the date of issuance and be completed within five years. This put an arbitrary and undue burden on developers, who often require flexibility in construction timeframes. LD 862 provided regulatory relief by requiring the DEP to extend that timeframe by two years: four years to begin activity and seven years to complete it.

 

 

LD 281 – Statute of Limitations for DEP Violations

Existing law provided a 10-year statute of limitations after which the DEP could not initiate enforcement action against those violating DEP rules. LD 281 reduced that limitation to 6 years, providing more certainty and flexibility to developers and job creators.

 

 

LD 322 – Amend the Informed Growth Act

The Informed Growth Act (IGA) imposed onerous, state-mandated requirements for the procedure by which “big-box” stores could move into a town. LD 322 restored local control, allowing local communities to have the ultimate say in whether and when a big box store may move into town.

This reform provides that:

  • The IGA does not apply to a municipality unless the municipality adopts it in an ordinance;
  • Municipalities that adopt the IGA receive the developer’s fee directly from the developer for the comprehensive economic impact study rather than through state government; and
  • The municipality may determine which factors are considered in the comprehensive economic impact study.

 

 

LD 1695 – Retail Permit and License Displays

This bill eliminates the unnecessary requirement of small business owners to publicly display all of their permits and licenses. This opens up wall space in stores and removes the clutter and unsightliness of multiple government documents. Instead, a business owner must simply make the license or permit available on demand at the premises.

 

 

LD 49 – Lobster Traps on Docks

LD 49 eliminated the notorious DEP rule that lobstermen could not store their lobster traps on docks. The reasoning behind this rule was that the shadow they cast may inhibit seaweed growth on the harbor floor. This Legislature believes that Maine lobstermen’s convenience and productivity is more important than a few square feet of seaweed.

 

 

Contact: David Sorensen, Communications Director
Phone: (207) 622-6247

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Paid for and authorized by the Maine Republican Party.  Not authorized by any Candidate or Candidate’s Committee.

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For Immediate Release from the Maine GOP, August 29, 2012
Policy Brief: Welfare Reform


In an effort to assist Republican state legislative candidates, volunteers, and activists as they engage voters on the campaign trail, the Maine Republican Party will be sending periodic briefings on policy issues relevant to the work of the 125th Legislature. 

 

Welfare reform is one of the most important initiatives that Maine and America can undertake.  Well-intentioned Democrats have, over the years, grown our welfare system to an unsustainable level out of an urge to help the poor.  The folly of their policy is two-fold.  First, it creates a culture of dependency and entitlement, whereby people expect government handouts and lose motivation to improve their position in life.  This does not help them in the long-term.  Second, it cripples government budgets, requiring ever-increasing taxes that drain resources from the productive side of the economy – the side of the economy that we should be helping so that those on welfare have opportunities for work.

 

Mainers recognize the need for welfare reform, and it is shown in numerous polls to be one of the highest priorities of Maine voters.  Republicans are trusted with this task because we understand the importance of making welfare a safety net of last resort, not a way of life.

 

When Republicans were elected to majorities in the state legislature in 2010, these were the problems they faced:

  • Maine ranked third in the nation for the number of households on TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families) cash welfare assistance (4.9%);
  • Maine ranked second for the number of households receiving food stamps (13.8%);
  • Maine had the second-highest food stamp error rate in the nation (10.4%);
  • Maine had the third-highest number of residents enrolled in Medicaid (27%); and
  • Maine state government’s welfare expenditures ranked second in the nation (30.5%) as a percentage of overall state expenditures.

Fortunately, the 125th Maine Legislature undertook a series of reforms to bring Maine’s destructive and overly-generous welfare system under control.

 

 

LD 1043 – Biennial Budget

 

The 2012-2013 state budget included several reforms to Maine’s welfare system designed to provide better stewardship for taxpayers’ money, curb the culture of dependency that welfare programs often create, and ensure that those programs will be around for those who truly need them. These welfare reform initiatives:

  • Cap TANF (a cash benefit welfare program) benefits at 5 years, which is the federal standard, ending unlimited lifetime benefits for TANF in Maine (exceptions will be made for cases of extreme hardship, including for the elderly and the disabled);
  • End MaineCare (Medicaid), TANF, and food stamps benefits for non-citizens;
  • Impose strict sanctions for people who violate TANF rules, including a termination of benefits for adults on the first offense and a full family sanction for the second offense; and
  • Require those convicted of drug felonies to be drug tested as a condition of receiving welfare.

 

LD 1816 – FY ’12 DHHS Supplemental Budget

 

Faced with a $220 million shortfall at the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), the Legislature closed the fiscal year 2012 portion of the budget deficit by, among other measures, reducing eligibility for MaineCare, Maine’s Medicaid program. In all, the supplemental budget enacts over $70 million in long-term, structural savings. This was crucial considering that overall Medicaid spending in Maine has increased by 45 percent over the past ten years, and Maine covered 35 percent more of its population than did the average state.

 

Included in the cuts was:

  • A cap on non-categorical childless adults, a group of recipients covered by only seven other states in the country;
  • A reduction of methadone reimbursement from $70 to $60 per week;
  • Measures to ensure that private insurance is used before MaineCare when available;
  • The elimination of unnecessary staff positions at DHHS;
  • The substitution of generic drugs for name-brand drugs; and
  • A lowering of MaineCare eligibility from 200 to 133 percent of the federal poverty level for many MaineCare recipients (most states peg eligibility at 100 percent).

In addition to these spending reductions, the bill enacted the recommendations of a streamlining task force convened in 2011, curbing expenses at DHHS by $25 million. The Legislature achieved these savings by consolidating offices, eliminating non-essential services, and tightening eligibility further.

LD 1746 – FY’13 DHHS Supplemental Budget

 

Faced with a $78.5 million deficit at DHHS for fiscal year 2013, the Legislature passed a supplemental budget to balance the budget and control long-term costs at DHHS. For example:

  • Drug addicts on the state-funded methadone program will be limited to two years of treatment, with some exceptions, saving more than $1.3 million per year;
  • Salary cuts and reorganization at DHHS will save over $1.8 million;
  • The budget bill eliminates optional MaineCare coverage for able-bodied 19- and 20-year-olds, saving more than $4 million a year (only a handful of states provide this benefit);
  • It reduces MaineCare eligibility for S-CHIP parents from those making up to 133 percent of the federal poverty level to 100 percent, saving $5.8 million per year;
  • Many other cuts ensure the long-term sustainability of core MaineCare services.

The budget was not just about spending cuts, but about shifting spending to reflect better priorities. It includes about $26 million in new initiatives, more than paid for by the above cuts, such as

  • $450,000 for indigent legal services;
  • $3.7 million for E-911 service; and
  • An increase from $6,000 to $10,000 in the amount of pension income exempt from state income taxes, to take effect in fiscal year 2014.

 

LD 1888 – Improve Welfare Fraud Detection at DHHS

 

LD 1888 enacts sensible measures to ensure that taxpayers’ dollars are protected from welfare fraud and abuse. It reflects Republicans’ belief that there should be stricter limits to the use of welfare benefits and that those who misuse them must be held accountable both as a deterrent to such behavior and as a matter of principle.

 

The bill:

  • Authorizes DHHS to recover improperly received general assistance and MaineCare benefits;
  • Bans the use of EBT cards at liquor stores, gambling facilities and adult entertainment businesses;
  • Makes the unauthorized transfer or possession of EBT cards a Class D crime;
  • Conforms Maine law to federal requirements regarding suspension of payments to MaineCare providers upon determination of a credible allegation of fraud; and
  • Adds 8 Fraud Investigator and 2 Office Associate II positions to the Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Family Independence.

 

LD 1812 – Asking Feds for EBT Photo ID

 

A bill to require photo identification when presenting an EBT (food stamp) card at stores was originally proposed, but found to be in conflict with federal law. The Legislature then enacted LD 1812 as a resolve, requiring DHHS to file a request with the federal government to change its rules to allow Maine to require photo identification to be presented when Maine EBT cards are used. This measure would reduce fraud considerably, as many EBT recipients have bartered their food stamp benefits to ineligible individuals in exchange for other items. The resolve also directs DHHS to find other ways of combating EBT fraud and report back to the Legislature by December 1, 2013 with its findings.

 

Summary

 

Republican legislators made incredible progress in reforming Maine’s welfare system.  They were elected in part to fix the system and they followed through on that mandate with serious reforms.  The work, however, is not done.  There is still much that can be done to make Maine’s welfare system more efficient, more fair, less costly to taxpayers, and less encouraging of dependency.  Republicans in the 126th Legislature are committed to continuing these positive reforms and making Maine a state that encourages hard work, not more welfare dependency.

 

Contact: David Sorensen, Communications Director Maine GOP
Phone: (207) 622-6247

Please E-mail victory2012@mainegop.com to volunteer to help expand the Republican majorities in the Maine House and Senate or click here to contribute today.   

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Paid for and authorized by the Maine Republican Party.  Not authorized by any Candidate or Candidate’s Committee.

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