Progressive nightmare

By DEIRDRE FULTON  |  March 16, 2011

• Five bills that weaken SHORELAND ZONING, which dictates how close buildings can be to lakes, rivers, and coastal waters. Proponents say these bills give property owners more flexibility and builders more jobs. But eco-advocates claim that a smaller buffer zone will mean more polluted runoff into Maine's tourist-wooing waterways.

"There's a great deal of scorn for what many people would think were widely shared environmental values of Mainers," Hinck says. "The part that's troubling is that in addition to those proposals that are reasoned judgment calls that favor business interests over environmental values . . . there appear to be poorly thought out or completely unfounded environmental prejudices that are being translated into policy initiatives."

Labor and Unions

Maine's labor fight hasn't reached Wisconsin proportions . . . yet. But the so-called "RIGHT-TO-WORK" BILL — which the Maine Heritage Policy Center, a conservative think-tank, places at the top of its priority list — is an opening salvo that antagonizes the organized labor force in the state. According to current law, Maine workers who do not join a union but do benefit from union negotiations must pay a fee to help cover the costs of collective bargaining; the proposed legislation, a version of which currently exists in 22 states and is up for debate this year in 11 more, would restrict unions from requiring such fees as a condition of employment.

"Certainly a year or two ago this would not have gotten much traction," admits Tarren Bragdon of the MHPC, "but there's a lot of focus on it now."

Greg Mourad, of the national Right-to-Work Committee, expressed similar optimism to the Maine Public Broadcasting Network. "We see Maine as a real opportunity because of the gains of right-to-work supporters within the state legislature," he said. "There are significantly more of them now than there used to be . . . and we believe that there is a realistic possibility that it could pass one or both chambers, and we think that that is definitely a shot worth taking."

But Chris Quint, executive director of the Maine State Employees Association, says the right-to-work issue is "best left to the bargaining table."

"Despite what the governor says, no one in Maine is forced to join a union," Quint says. "It's not a condition of employment."

LePage was quoted in several national publications last month saying that Maine's existing system boils down to employees being "required to belong to a union." He told the online publication Politico that "once [labor supporters] start reading our budget they're going to leave Wisconsin and come to Maine because we're going after right-to-work."

Quotes like that support Quint's hypothesis that "the only reason [right-to-work] is being brought up now is for political reasons."

Of course, right-to-work isn't the only swipe the administration is taking at organized labor. The governor's proposed budget would impose a three-year freeze on cost-of-living increases for state workers' and teachers' PENSIONS, and a two-percent cap on future increases. It would also raise the retirement age and increase the amount most employees contribute to the retirement system by two percent (though not the governor himself, nor state employees who are not unionized).

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  Topics: News Features , Maine, Department of Labor, Dale Crafts,  More more >
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