AUGUSTA — Governor John Baldacci acknowledged the troubled present but focused on his vision for a prosperous future Tuesday as he unveiled a range of initiatives that lawmakers from both parties described as bold and ambitious.
At the center of Baldacci’s plan is an extensive energy initiative that ranges from weatherizing every home within 20 years to creating a renewable energy industry. He also announced a new agreement with Bangor Hydro-Electric Co. to explore the use of the state’s transportation corridors for underground energy transmission lines.
“We have within reach the power to shape our own future, to write the next chapter of this great state’s story,” said Baldacci. “What I’m talking about is a new economy, one that’s built to succeed in a rapidly changing world.”
“We have to think big,” House Speaker Hannah Pingree (D-North Haven) said. “If half of what he talked about happens, Maine will become a major energy exporter.”
In addition to the energy initiative, Baldacci proposed launching two medical schools in Maine, instituting a temporary voucher system to help laid-off workers with health care costs and instituting a statewide health wellness program.
To pay for his proposals, Baldacci proposes a mix of federal stimulus funding for short-term projects along with private investments and a $306-million bond package he proposed last week. For some, $306 million of borrowing is too much.
Although many of Baldacci’s ideas intrigue Republicans, as Senate Minority Leader Kevin Raye (R-Washington County) said, “We must be mindful that debt is at the root of the economic crisis we face.”
Among the specifics in Baldacci’s new proposals were the following:
Creating a temporary voucher system to help newly unemployed workers pay for health insurance.
Creating “Maine’s Universal Wellness” program. Beginning in July, Healthy Maine Partnerships will begin providing health risk reviews and educating Mainers about resources available to them.
Launching two medical schools using $3.5 million in stimulus funding. Tufts University will partner with Maine Medical Center and the University of Vermont will partner with Eastern Maine Medical System and the University of Maine.
Instituting a pilot project, with $500,000 in stimulus funding, involving 15 medical practices in Maine. The project would explore ways for health care professionals to focus on keeping patients healthy as opposed to waiting for them to get sick.
Introducing the “Maine Energy Independence Act,” which will consolidate all of the state’s efforts in the area of energy under one roof. This initiative includes a goal of weatherizing every Maine home and half of all businesses within 20 years.
Putting $7.5 million from the proposed bond package into a “Maine Marine Wind Energy Fund” to support development of a test site for wind energy.
Exploring the possibility of routing utility transmission lines along Maine’s transportation corridors. “We are also investigating the potential for a second energy corridor that would run between Maine and New Brunswick,” he said.