WASHINGTON – Gov. John Baldacci, in town for the National Governors Association Winter Meeting, joined his colleagues from across the nation to discuss state-level issues, ranging from education to the economy.
The conference, which began Saturday and ends today, offered governors the opportunity to meet with President Bush, federal officials and one another to develop initiatives and plans they can use in their home states.
“It’s very clear to me that we have to be innovators in our economy and our education,” Baldacci said Monday morning in an interview shortly after the governors met with the president.
Baldacci called the president’s discussion of plans for Iraq, immigration and education “invigorating.”
“We need to ask more of ourselves in terms of providing opportunities for children to be successful in the future,” the governor said, adding that plans are under way in Maine to improve mathematics and science education and to establish more college preparation programs.
As governor of one of 10 states awarded a grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation for high school education reform, Baldacci said ensuring that children at all school levels do not get left behind in the system is a priority.
Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano was chairwoman of the conference, which focused on the economic theme “Innovation America.”
Among the many topics discussed besides school reform was the Northeast Dairy Compact, Baldacci said.
The governors also passed a resolution to support the reauthorization of the USDA Milk Income Loss Contract Program, Baldacci said. Unlike the federal program, he said, the Northeast Dairy Compact would not require government appropriations. The federal Milk Income Loss Contract Program compensates dairy producers when domestic milk prices fall below a specified level.
Baldacci said he supports the reauthorization of the Northeast Dairy Compact, which was created by Congress in the 1990s and ceased operation in 2001 after Congress did not reauthorize it. The compact established an equal pricing system for independent and corporate farmers.
“We support the reauthorization of the Northeast Dairy Compact,” said Stanley Bennett, president of Oakhurst Dairy in Portland. “Attrition has continued in the industry and there are fewer than 400 farms operating in the state, with a lot of them on the edge [of closing] if they do not see an improvement in pricing.”
Bennett said about 90 percent of the milk from his dairy comes from a group of 85 independent Maine dairy farmers.
“We are much more concerned about there continuing to be an adequate supply of high-quality milk,” Bennett said.
Baldacci said job growth plans for various state business sectors, such as boat building, also were discussed.
“You cannot take limited resources and spread them from point A to point Z. You need to take limited resources and help support specific [economic] clusters,” Baldacci said.
“We’re hoping to gain more than 2,000 jobs over the next several years by focusing on those strengths,” he said.