By Robert E. Macdonald
Mayor of Lewiston
I ran for mayor focused on welfare reform. Being retired and not being—nor will I ever be—politically correct, I was aggravated at our local tax rate. But having a governor who was not afraid to speak his mind and what I thought (obviously in error) was a Republican Legislature of the same ilk, I felt pretty confident change was around the corner.
It was not what I had imagined: the Democrats regaining both the House and the Senate in Augusta. I felt as though I had run into a brick wall. Instead of giving up, I took two steps back and saw the possibility of Lewiston-Auburn going from the state’s redheaded stepchild to a power to be reckoned with—a leader, not a follower.
Issues upcoming in the next few months will focus on paying our hospitals the millions they are owed, welfare reform, schools and public transportation between Lewiston and other parts of our state.
I have spoken with Senator Margaret Craven, Representative Peggy Rotundo, Representative Mike Lajoie and newly elected Representative and current Ward Three City Councilor Nate Libby. I have a very positive feeling that the mayors, city officials and our state delegation can put our differences aside, work together and create a change that the greater majority of the Twin Cities will find palatable.
We have a major problem in our schools. It magnifies itself when residents, paying heavy local property taxes, start putting their homes up for sale and looking to buy property in surrounding towns where they feel their children will be safe and get a better education.
We can no longer avoid this issue. It has to be discussed openly and frankly. Feelings will be hurt, but the problems have to be corrected.
Next we have to assure that our local hospitals, Central Maine Medical Center and St. Mary’s Regional Hospital, are paid in full for millions of dollars owed to them by the State of Maine. Both are major employers contributing greatly to our local economy. Many people reading this column know or are related to someone working at one of these institutions. What kind of impact would the downsizing or closing of either hospital have on this community?
St Mary’s employs 1,900 people and is owed $23 million. Central Maine Medical Center employs 4000 people and is owed approximately $58 million. Unlike the government, neither institution has the power to print money or tax their way to solvency.
Transportation is another problem inhibiting the growth of both cities. Southern Maine has the ZOOM Bus that runs between Biddeford and Portland, serving most of the towns in between. People from Southern Maine are provided a vehicle that gives them the opportunity to be mobile and enhance their employment opportunities.
In L-A, what do we have? Nothing! Transportation to Portland or possibly Augusta would provide opportunity for those who are unable to secure a job in the local area and do not have the means to get to areas that offer good or better paying jobs.
Lastly we have everybody’s favorite: welfare reform. I feel optimistic that our local delegation will lead the charge and that strong welfare reform, palatable to all sides, will be passed. I am hopeful that our delegation will bring reality to Augusta, eliminating the use of the word “anecdotal” from the halls of the State House to describe the real problems with our welfare state.
Finally, with the new legislative session approaching, Senator Margaret Craven, Representative Peggy Rotundo and I have made peace. I believe that we can find common ground on many issues. However, we adhere to principles that we stand fastidiously by.
Therefore, in the spirit of democracy, should we reach an impasse on an issue, let’s agree to publish our beliefs side by side in the Twin City TIMES and let the public decide. Working together, I believe we can move L-A to become a leader in our state.
On a personal note, I want to thank Senator Margaret Craven and Representative Peggy Rotundo for their support of our local veterans. I appreciate the fact that whether it is extremely hot or cold, rainy, sunny or snowy, they always show up to recognize our veterans.