Friday, January 17, 2014

Floor Speech: Veto Override of Maine Foods Bill

Remarks on Veto Override of LD 1254
An Act To Increase Consumption of Maine Foods in All State Institutions - January 14, 2014

Mr. Speaker, women and men of the House, I rise to urge you to vote to override the veto on LD 1254, An Act to Increase Consumption of Maine Foods in All State Institutions.

When are we going to invest in our state’s food production? When are we going to invest in the self-sufficiency of the great state of Maine? If not now, then, tell me, when?

LD 1254 is 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 Joint Standing Committee on State and Local Government, chaired by the good representative from North Yarmouth, did an outstanding job working this bill. The school exemption was prudent in order to keep this bill moving forward and viable for passage. The committee also knew that LD 1431, An Act To Support School Nutrition and Expand the Local Foods Economy, was in the pipeline. That proposal seeks to remedy any problems with local school districts that may have trouble sourcing food from local food producers. This bill, LD 1254, is, therefore, NOT an "unfunded mandate," as the chief executive described in his veto letter (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. That’s the reason why there’s no price tag in the final fiscal note on this bill.

Now, speaking of the veto letter, the only part of it that reads as accurate is when it states that current state law already requires institutions to purchase food from Maine producers. Well, it is this precise current law, Chapter  8-A: FOOD AND FOOD POLICY, Subchapter 1: PURCHASE OF FOODSTUFFS FROM MAINE, that LD 1254 seeks to AMEND by adding implementation guidelines back into the statute. They were removed in 2005 when the price per meal no longer made sense, given the rising cost of food.

Seasonality also isn't an issue because Maine food IS available year-round. There are a growing number of farms growing food year-round in state-of-the art, energy efficient and sustainable greenhouses. But even if there aren’t yet enough of these to supply fresh greens to our state institutions in the winter, then think frozen or canned vegetables or frozen blueberries from Maine growers and processors; think frozen or fresh meats and seafoods from Maine meat and seafood producers and processors;  think storage beets, carrots, turnips, potatoes, and winter squashes from Maine farmers; think of the frozen sliced root crop from Aroostook County that Northern Girl distributes all over the state. I could go on, but I think you get the idea.

The chief executive’s note on separation of powers is simply unfounded. The state’s correctional facilities are NOT exempt from the laws of the Legislature.

Now, there are some who say that the government has no business telling a food purchaser at a state-funded institution what food to buy. Even a person with libertarian sensibilities knows that statement is nonsense. Mr, Speaker, the PEOPLE are the government. The government is not some THING disembodied from the populace. The food director of a state-funded institution isn't working for a private enterprise. That food director is working for the public, as are all employees of state-funded institutions. As a citizen of the state, don't I have a say in where the money I contribute, through my taxes, is spent for the food available to me to eat when I attend a conference at a public institution? I, as both citizen and elected lawmaker, have the responsibility to demand or require (take your pick) that those who are purchasing food with MY money spend as much of it as is feasible on food grown, caught, processed and produced right here in Maine.

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 by putting implementation guidelines and benchmarks into this current law in order to give it teeth; it is not a NEW policy.

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 fisheries and NOT circulating in Maine's economy, thereby strengthening our communities.

Mr. Speaker, as I’ve already said TWICE now, (third time is the charm, right?), LD 1254 amplifies an existing lawthat 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 for accountability by adding a percentage and a timeline. There is no penalty for non-compliance with this law, but the implementation guidelines help provide some measure of accountability to our legislators and taxpayers.

In closing, we must be aware that 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 new market for their "seconds.”

Maine's strength can be found in our PRIMARY economic engines: our farmers, fishermen and forests -- the emblems of our heritage on our state's flag.

If we want more jobs for Maine people, then we must begin with policies that help promote the growth of and strengthen our primary economies, not undercut and divert resources away from them to the sole benefit out-of-state, agribusiness corporate giants whose dollars don’t circulate in our own economy.

LD 1254 is a step toward turning policy support to Maine farms and fisheries by directing our state-funded institutions to buy more Maine food. Who can argue with that?

So, Mr. Speaker, men and women of the House, if you believe, as I believe, 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 from York to Fort Kent, and create desperately needed jobs right here in Maine, then please vote to override this veto today.


(The Maine House of Representatives voted 94-46 to overturn the veto. The Maine Senate will vote on the veto next week.)


No comments:

Post a Comment