Tuesday morning, legislative leaders and more than 100 guests joined the Maine State Chamber for its inaugural Legislative Strictly Social Virtual Coffee Hour. For an hour, Sen. Eloise Vitelli (D-Sagadahoc), Sen. Jeff Timberlake (R-Androscoggin), Rep. Ryan Fecteau (D-Biddeford), and Rep. Trey Stewart (R-Presque Isle) responded to questions posed by chamber members and staff. A recording of the event can be found online HERE.
Legislators were invited to talk about successful legislation they worked on during the 129th Legislature, followed by questions ranging from legislative priorities to coronavirus concerns. Citing a restored trust and increased collaboration leading up to the abrupt mid-March adjournment caused by COVID-19, legislators expressed the need for economic relief and stabilizing efforts going forward, attention to repairing and restoring Maine’s transportation infrastructure, and increasing the housing stock across the state.
On Monday, Governor Janet Mills announced that the Consensus Economic Forecasting Commission (CEFC) and the Revenue Forecasting Committee (RFC) would be meeting this summer to examine the economic ramifications of COVID-19 on state government’s revenues. The CEFC and RFC are responsible for projecting revenues that the Administration and Legislature then use to determine the State’s budget. Citing the importance of the forecasting committees’ reports to inform their decisions, legislators are fully prepared to be called back to Augusta for a special legislative session to review the Coronavirus’ impact on the state budget and to assist in Maine’s reopening and rebuilding.
Legislators also recognize the rising priority that broadband and education will play going forward. Additionally, legislators plan to examine ways to support entrepreneurs and agriculture as important contributors to the state’s economy. A few raised concerns about resisting the urge to start stripping the economic support programs, and hope the special session is focused. It will be very challenging to run the legislation that was put on hold at the March 13 adjournment; it was suggested that the legislature examine the remaining bills for relevance and add only what is needed to address the impact of the pandemic.
While there is no crystal ball for the path forward, there is no doubt that the impact of the pandemic will be profound. COVID-19 has changed the landscape on many fronts – public health, education, economic viability, to name a few. Legislative leaders believe they have an obligation as leaders to address these issues, and they are up to the challenge.
When asked about their vision for guidelines to reopening businesses, safety was the first criteria. Guidelines that are specific while allowing for flexibility, adaptability, transparency, and creativity in redefining business practices were also noted. Many are anxious to get something on paper, to make a plan and take action, recognizing that employers deserve input because “they know their business best.”
In response to a question about the phasing-in of certain industries, it was noted that the phasing-in process has more to do with the employer’s capacity and size, and not a “one size fits all” solution by industry. Chamber members should begin by putting in place a health and safety plan to best conduct business going forward. The DECD portal contains an online comment form and provides employers with a platform to share thoughts on potential goals and initiatives or on issues that should be addressed in the planning process.
As we work to reopen Maine, legislators were asked which changes brought on by the pandemic did they hope remained in place. They noted the “new normal” will require continued agility, adaptability and creativity within each industry sector. We will have undoubtedly learned much from this process, including the realization that many Mainers have the ability to work and learn remotely, as well as the environmental and infrastructure benefits.
The Maine State Chamber would like to thank our guests, Sen. Vitelli, Sen. Timberlake, Rep. Fecteau, Rep. Stewart, and our generous sponsors:
SERIES SPONSORS: Casella Waste Systems, Inc.; Central Maine Power Company; Maine Department of Economic & Community Development; Northeast Delta Dental; VHB
PREMIER SPONSOR: AT&T
SPOTLIGHT SPONSORS: Backyard Farms, LLC; Brookfield Renewable Energy
PRESENTING SPONSORS: Altria Client Services LLC; American Chemistry Council; Bank of America; Dead River Company; Emera Maine; Finance Authority of Maine; Hannaford Supermarkets; MaineHealth; Merrill's Investigations & Security; Mitchell Tardy Jackson Government Affairs; PhRMA; Preti Flaherty, LLP; Spectrum Healthcare Partners; The Sheridan Corporation; Unitil Corp.
OFFICIAL SPONSORS: Bangor Savings Bank; Charter Communications; Cross Insurance; E.A. Scribner Insurance Agency, Inc.; Elanco; Enterprise Holdings; IDEXX Laboratories, Inc.; Maine Better Transportation Association; MEMIC; Maine Primary Care Association.