Monday, January 13, 2014

Stand Up For Maine Jobs Now

Dear Neighbor,

Last Friday, Gov. Paul LePage vetoed my bill  LD 1254, An Act to Increase Consumption of Maine Foods in All State Institutions, a commonsense economic development measure that would strengthen Maine's food economy and promote job creation for Maine people. Last session, the Legislature agreed to the measure, passing the bill to be enacted by a 2/3 vote. A supermajority, to be sure. 

LD 1254 would direct all state-funded institutions to purchase a percentage of foodstuffs from Maine food producers. Those percentages increase incrementally over the next 20 years in order to make them achievable and fiscally responsible. By committee amendment, schools that participate in the Federal School Lunch Program are exempt. The bill is, therefore, NOT an "unfunded mandate," as the governor described in his veto message (on either local school districts OR state government), because if the food isn't competitively priced and available, there is no requirement for any state institution to purchase it. 

By current statute, "It is the policy of the State to encourage food self-sufficiency for the State. State institutions and school districts in the State shall purchase food produced by Maine farmers or fishermen, provided that food is available in adequate quantity and meets acceptable quality standards, and is priced competitively."

LD 1254 is a small step toward realizing that goal.

The University of Maine is one example of an institution that has shifted its purchasing power towards Maine-grown food by already purchasing up to 30 percent of its food from Maine sources.

LD 1254 provides an incentive for all our institutions to follow UMaine's lead.

Right now, most of our taxpayer dollars that help fund institutional food buying are going to out-of-state corporations like Sysco and Aramark, NOT Maine farms and NOT circulating in Maine's economy, strengthening our communities.

LD 1254 amplifies an existing law that already requires institutions to keep their dollars in Maine and help promote our state's economy; it simply goes one step further by adding some benchmarks of accountability by adding a percentage and a timeline. There is no penalty for non-compliance with this law, but the implementation benchmarks help provide some measure of accountability to our legislators and taxpayers. 

The barriers on local farms to institutional markets are significant, and this bill could help create space for small farms to become mid-sized farms; mid-sized farms to scale up and hire farm help; large farms to gain a market for "seconds." Maine's strength can be found in our primary economic engines: our farmers, fishers and forestry, the emblems of our heritage on our state's flag. If we want more Maine jobs, we need to start with policies that help promote the growth and strengthen our primary economy, not undercut and divert resources away from our farms and fisherfolk toward agri-food multinational corporate giants whose dollars don't circulate in our own economy. LD 1254 is a step toward turning policy support toward Maine farms and fisheries by directing our state-funded institutions to buy more Maine food.

If you believe, as I do, that we need to spend more of our taxpayer dollars on food produced by Maine people for Maine people so that we keep more of our money in the state, reduce our reliance on foods imported from who knows where, grow a more robust food economy up and down the state, and create desperately needed jobs right here in Maine, then call or write your representatives and senators right now and urge them to vote to override this veto. The Legislature will vote on this veto tomorrow morning, Tuesday, January 14, so please don't delay. Maine's hardworking food producers -- farmers, fishermen, processors and distributors, small and large -- are counting on you.

If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact me at 207-377-3276 or at

Thank you for your help in this urgent matter and Happy New Year.

Take care of your blessings,

Craig Hickman
State Representative 

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