My committee vows to make wise decisions to ensure Maine’s prosperity over the long term.

The long-term recovery of Maine’s economy will depend in large part on the actions we take today. With the many challenges we face, the overarching goal of the Legislature is to make smart investments that will grow our economy in the years to come, not simply to patch our current budget holes. This will take a concerted effort on the part of the committee I serve on, Appropriations and Financial Affairs.

The Legislature’s session remains one marked by sober realities, as the economic downturn has permeated everything that we do. The task is daunting, and it will be an occasion for legislators not just to evaluate the programs in state government, but to find ways to change how we do business. We must make changes to state government in very fundamental ways while keeping our commitment to the people of Maine who are hurting in this difficult economic time and ensuring that we are poised for an eventual recovery. Even though some areas of our state’s economy will receive an infusion of recovery dollars from Washington, we will still need to close an $838 million budget gap for the next two years, which has resulted from the weakening state economy. This will involve some incredibly difficult decisions.

Maine’s economy is set to receive almost $900 million in economic recovery package funds from the federal government. (More than $645 million in tax credits will also accrue to citizens of the state through this package.) This one-time infusion of money to Maine will be at the forefront of our job-creation initiatives in the state. We must be careful not to use this money to create new projects, and we must be cautious not to spend these resources in a way that could cause budget shortfalls in the future. The vast majority of recovery package funds have been designated to be sent directly by the state to local governments and school districts through existing federal programs.

Our guiding principle on the Appropriations Committee will be commitment to transparency and strict, wise oversight of this federal money. The opportunity to make a lasting impact on the economic landscape of Maine will result in long-term benefits only if we ensure that these limited resources are spent in the right areas.

We have secured a commitment from the administration to work closely with the Legislature in decisions about the appropriation of recovery package dollars throughout the state. We are also working closely with the governor’s office to create a system of oversight that includes monitoring mechanisms as well as a Web site where all Maine citizens can see exactly how these funds are spent.

The rules that come with the federal money will require the state to collect information about state grants and contracts it awards, so we can track how funds are being spent and how many jobs are being created or saved. We will need to strengthen our review of all contracts and contract results to assure that public money is being spent wisely and that Maine is getting its money’s worth. All of this information will be posted on our Web site, enabling the public to find easily a record of government contracts, spending, subsidies and tax expenditures.

I welcome the opportunity to be part of this work on the Appropriations committee at this important time and I am confident that with smart investing and hard work, we can position Maine for a strong recovery. We have had a difficult year, and there will be more challenges ahead, but these tough times have only proved the strength and resiliency of our state.

We will continue to work our hardest every day to improve our economy and the lives of the people of Maine.

Rep. Peggy Rotundo, D-Lewiston, represents House District 74 and serves on the Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee and the Governmental Oversight Committee.

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