AUGUSTA — When a newly elected Legislature gathers for its first session Wednesday, Lewiston lawmakers will be right in the thick of it.

Two of the city’s Democratic lawmakers — state Sen. Nate Libby and state Rep. Jared Golden — are among the dozen members chosen by their colleagues to lead them through what may prove to be another tumultuous session.

Both vow to defend Democratic values while also working with Republican colleagues to try to advance bipartisan measures that would help address pressing issues that are holding Maine back.

While Lewiston has often had a strong delegation, it appears it hasn’t had so much leadership clout since the days when Rep. Louis Jalbert served 24 terms in the House more than a quarter-century ago.

It has, however, had plenty of other power brokers along the way, including state Rep. Peggy Rotundo, who is stepping down after logging a number of terms as co-chair of the budget-writing Appropriations Committee.

Her departure is “a great loss,” Libby said, but he is confident “we can fill that void” to benefit the community.

Libby, the 32-year-old incoming Senate assistant minority leader, said he sees opportunities to make progress on everything from education to energy.

Golden, 33, the new House assistant majority leader, is particularly interested in addressing the funding gap that has left the state with poor roads and other infrastructure woes, a problem that needs an extra $100 million or more each year to fix.

The two Democrats said they’re sure they can work hand in hand with legislative Republicans, but it remains an open question whether fiery GOP Gov. Paul LePage is open to compromise with the 186-member Legislature.

In any case, Republicans control the state Senate while the state House is in Democratic hands, which could be a recipe for gridlock but is more likely to pave the way for a lot of give-and-take. Since both sides need the other, Libby said, the situation “forces us to work together.”

Golden said the first goal, obviously, is to pass a new, two-year budget that has to be in place by June 30 to avoid shutting down the state government.

“It’s safe to assume we’re going to need a two-thirds vote for that, so there’s going to be some compromise on both sides,” Golden said.

Libby said property tax relief is high on his agenda despite a doubling of the homestead exemption in the most recent session.

Golden said there will be many discussions about the state’s tax structure as lawmakers try to find the right balance “between income tax, sales tax and property taxes” in their quest to come up with enough revenue to fund state necessities.

Libby said that in addition to property tax relief, he plans to push for more education dollars for Lewiston and for workforce development programs that can help people quality for jobs that are going begging for lack of skilled workers.

Golden, who is entering his second term, said part of the problem is that the state has been shifting taxes onto the back of municipalities, leaving places such as Lewiston with the choice of raising property taxes or cutting services. That’s gone too far, he said, adding that the state needs to fulfill its promise to share 5 percent of sales tax revenues with cities and towns.

Golden said the state also needs to focus investment in its infrastructure, including roads, broadband internet access, energy, water, sewers and rail.

“It’s hard for the state to have a forward-leaning strategy” on infrastructure when its funding is too paltry, he said. He said that with gasoline prices down, this is a good time to consider hiking taxes on fuel to close the gap.

Golden said that with President-elect Donald Trump and congressional leaders talking about new public works spending across the country, Maine needs to make sure it’s prepared with shovel-ready plans and funding to grab what it can from the federal government.

Lewiston and Auburn together have nine members in the Legislature, second only to Portland.

“That voting bloc represents strength for our community,” Golden said. “We make a strong effort to try to work together in almost everything we do.”

One area where the delegation’s strength may matter is in promoting passenger rail service to Lewiston and Auburn, Golden said. It would be a smart economic development move for a metropolitan area whose economy needs a boost, he said.

With its legislators pulling together and having two people in the leadership, Golden said, there is a chance to push successfully on rail and other measures “that will help drive our economic development.”

Libby said municipal leaders and the area’s lawmakers don’t agree on everything, but they share a commitment to expanding the homestead exemption, maintaining revenue-sharing, addressing foreclosed and abandoned properties and bringing more resources to bear to deal with high lead levels in some neighborhoods.

He said he also wants to restore Maine’s public health system, which he accused LePage of dismantling.

Golden, a veteran of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, said he plans to continue doing what he can to make it easier for returning veterans to get jobs and services.

The Legislature will also be focused on implementing the four referendum questions that voters approved, including minimum wage hikes, the legalization of marijuana and a tax hike for high earners to help fund education.

Depending on what happens in Washington, lawmakers may also need to take action on health care if Congress repeals the Affordable Care Act, changes Medicaid or otherwise takes steps that will have serious impacts on Maine.


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