Commentary

Like others that preceded it, Governor Mills’ economic plan will be a bust

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Governor Mills on Wednesday released her 10-year economic development plan for Maine, the first such undertaking in our state since 1993. As you’d expect, the plan outlines a number of actions Maine will take to improve economic conditions, but does not say how much these actions will cost or how they’ll be implemented.

As noted by Michael Shepherd of the Bangor Daily News, it’s hard to argue with the goals outlined in the plan. The ambitions put forward include growing average annual wages and attracting 75,000 new people to move here and fill openings within our economy.

Of course, all Mainers want to see wages grow and our state attract young, talented workers to stem the tide of an aging population. But the policies put forward by Governor Mills to achieve these goals, their effectiveness and the price tag, will be the main points of contention as she, lawmakers and state officials attempt to put the plan into action.

The major policy proposals outlined in the plan include a universal pre-K program, loan guarantees for companies that fund broadband expansion projects in rural Maine, offshore wind energy development and a career explorations program for students, starting in kindergarten and ending one year after high school, intended to connect them with economic opportunities in the state.

The plan also discusses the need to get existing Mainers back to work, including stay-at-home parents and roughly 100,000 working age adults who are absent from the workforce. The plan vaguely states this will be accomplished through programs that support training, tuition, transportation and child care services within the Department of Health and Human Services, and by increasing the accessibility and affordability of child care. According to the plan, this would be achieved by the state supplementing the salary of child care and other early childhood education workers.

To attract new talent to Maine, the plan calls for funding the governor’s “Welcome Home” program, which would supposedly draw people to Maine through simple marketing and advertising campaigns modeled after the state’s tourism efforts. Apparently nobody who played part in the plan sees the difference between visiting Maine on vacation and living here year-round. High taxes and burdensome regulations are what separate qualified workers from coming to Maine, not the lack of a marketing campaign.

The lone bright spot in this section of the plan talks about streamlining occupational licensing. The plan states, “Maine must be known by foreign trained individuals across the U.S. as the most effective state to support their goals to attain a license in their field. Maine will develop and implement a process for effective and timely recognition of credentials issued internationally, by the military, and by other states.”

Finally, a policy worth pursuing. The Maine Heritage Policy Center has been barking up this tree for two long years. A bill to achieve this same goal was shot down by the Legislative Council last week. Why must the governor’s 10-year economic plan be released before we can pursue policies that draw people to Maine and help them work in their desired field?

Unfortunately, the plan also talks about creating new “micro-credentials” to help workers improve their skills, which sounds like our current licensing boondoggle to the nth degree. What’s the conversion rate on micro-credentials to certificates and licenses, and how many will I need to be a registered, certified, licensed communications director by 2030?

To boost innovation in Maine, the plan calls for increasing funding for research and development, expanding tax credits for investors of startups, and reestablishing the Maine Innovation Economy Advisory Board. I’ve never heard of an innovative government board, so this should be interesting.

The plan also highlights the growing child care dilemma in our state and says Maine will “set the bar high for child care” and create a “world-class” child care system. Essentially, the plan sounds like state-run daycare from the moment a child exits its mother’s womb.

“The Children’s Cabinet will be asked to design a long-term plan for Maine to move to an early care and education system for children from birth to age 4 that is high-quality, accessible, and affordable. The plan shall include: expanding to universal pre-K through a strong mixed delivery system (with incentives for partnerships among schools, child care providers, and Head Starts); increasing the number of quality infant and toddler care slots; investing in the childcare workforce; and improving access to the childcare subsidy program.”

Sure, all of this sounds great, but how? How will we do any of this? Simply writing these items on a piece of paper does not mean they will be completed. What’s the implementation plan? The document is a wish list, not a real plan to get anything done.

And that, in a nutshell, describes the governor’s 10-year economic development plan. Unsurprisingly, it examines Maine’s economy only in terms of wants – it does not consider what we could have right now if we changed the status quo. The words “taxes” and “regulations” do not appear anywhere in the document. If these two key issues are not being addressed, there is no 10-year economic plan worth devising or pursuing.

And, of course, it all costs money. Herein lies the governor’s biggest problem; there is no cost estimate to her plan. It’s over 40 pages of feel-good gobbledygook that will amount to nothing because Maine simply does not have enough economic activity to produce the tax revenues necessary to implement even half of it.

We can fill the room with dozens more so-called experts and members of special interests groups, and even take another seven months devising a plan. But until we address the underlying issues that make Maine undesirable, there will be no demographic or economic turnaround.

About Jacob Posik

Jacob Posik, of Turner, is the director of communications at The Maine Heritage Policy Center (MHPC) and the editor of The Maine Wire. He formerly served as a policy analyst at MHPC. Posik can be reached at jposik@mainepolicy.org.

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