press conferenceAt a recent press conference Democratic leaders announced their priorities for the upcoming legislative session. Senate President Justin Alfond (D-Portland) and House Speaker Mark Eves (D-North Berwick) outlined four policy areas as a way of achieving a stronger Maine economy and growing the middle class.

Alfond opened the press conference by heralding a new tone of civility for the Legislature. “Maine people are clear,” he said. “They don’t need to worry about whether or not we are doing our job while they go off to do theirs.”

Democratic leaders outlined four policy priorities for the 126th Legislature: (1) Developing Maine’s workforce, (2) Strengthening Maine’s public schools, (3) Lowering health care and energy costs for more Maine families and small businesses, and (4) Investing in Maine’s future through research and development and roads and bridges.

According to the Department of Labor statistics more than 50,000 Mainers remain out of work. Maine’s economy was the only one in New England that shrank last year and one of three states in the nation to have revenues fall below projections.

“Maine people want a focus that will foster a better business environment, create jobs, and grow our economy,” said Alfond. “We have a plan to work with employees and employers to make sure workers have the skills that businesses need.”

Earlier this month, Democrats announced the formation of a special committee to address the state’s “skills gap” and workforce development needs. According to a study by Maine’s community college system, 4,000 jobs between now and 2018 will remain unfilled because of the skills gap.

In addition to the skills gap, Alfond said Democrats would focus on strengthening public schools and early childhood education, noting that Democrats, Republicans, parents and teachers alike share the goal of making students and education a priority.

“We will make the classroom the best learning environment it can be by supporting our teachers, providing our schools with the tools they need—and the dollars needed to acquire these tools,” said Alfond.

Speaker Eves said lowering health care and energy costs and investing in infrastructure and research and development are also key to improving Maine’s economy.

“We must work to put more money in the pockets of Maine families and small businesses,” said Eves.  “We can do that by working on real solutions that lower our health care and energy costs.”

Eves said lawmakers should continue to focus on bipartisan energy solutions, including energy efficiency and diversifying Maine’s energy sources to reduce the state’s dependency on oil. He also indicated Democrats would work toward lowering health care costs by addressing care management and making necessary changes to the health insurance law Republicans passed last session, which resulted in health insurance premium increases for 90 percent of small businesses.

Both leaders emphasized the need for collaboration.

“We need to come together in order to solve our problems. We must do better, and if everyone pitches in, we can make Maine a better state,” Eves said. “While we might not always agree, we will always seek common ground in order to strengthen the economy and grow the middle class.”

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