Commentary

Maine lawmakers should advance policies that will kickstart economic recovery

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To state the obvious, Maine’s economy is in trouble.

The 14 day quarantine has already wrecked the early and middle stages of Maine’s tourism season, and the alternative option recently unveiled will not do anything to truly improve the situation, leaving open the very real possibility that the entire season will be effectively lost.

The state’s problems are hardly limited to hospitality and tourism, though. Maine’s unemployment recently hit a record high at nearly 11 percent, and while May saw an encouraging uptick, the state has still lost nearly 140,000 jobs since the pandemic took hold and scores of local small businesses have been forced to shut their doors permanently.

Given this, it is unconscionable that the Legislature has not been called back into session to respond. That is why Maine Policy Institute has spearheaded a petition demanding the Legislature reconvene.

When they do, the primary job of that legislature will be to focus on restoring the economy, and creating jobs.

To do that, Maine lawmakers will need to be pretty creative in crafting policies that encourage economic opportunity. If they take a business-friendly approach, however, they can put us on a long term pathway to prosperity and job creation. In most cases, they would be best off removing barriers to business creation and employment — such as occupational licensing — and instead simply put in place guardrails that allow the free market to more smoothly run its course.

One thing they absolutely can not do is fall into the trap of relying only on short-term fixes intended to temporarily address the state’s most immediate needs. Federal bailouts, and the burdensome red tape and strings that come with them, are not going to give us long-term growth.

Nor can they return to business as usual. For generations, Maine lawmakers have passed heavy-handed legislation — usually at the expense of business owners and consumers — that include suffocating restrictions.

For instance, in just the last year local governments have opted to — in the name of “sustainability” — implement blanket bans on plastic packaging materials that directly penalize businesses and deepen the financial burden on consumers. Meanwhile, a number of Maine lawmakers have introduced legislation that would require producers and distributors of packaged goods to compensate municipalities for the cost of recycling, placing an increased burden on small businesses.

These types of regulations are problematic for businesses even when the economy is strong, and never should have been implemented. At a time like now, such restrictions can be crushing to businesses that are barely hanging on by their fingernails.

If — to use the above example — sustainability is important to you, than banning products, or taxing them to death is the wrong approach anyway. Lawmakers could instead simply support businesses that create products that can be easily repaired, recycled and repurposed for use in future manufacturing, more or less achieving the same underlying goals without suffocating business operations.

Shifting the production of goods from a method which relies heavily on importing raw materials from other countries, to a more “circular method,” which operates based on a self-sustained local supply chain right here in the United States, will create higher skilled jobs through remanufacturing and enhanced innovation. Some studies suggest that an adoption of the circular method could create up to 18 million new jobs by 2030.

By making it easier for businesses to access collected and processed products for reuse, the circular economy can also reduce costs on the supply side — a clear competitive advantage for those businesses who can integrate into their operations. In fact, experts estimate these dynamics could lead to savings of upwards of $700 billion in the consumer goods sector alone in next decade if widely adopted.

This is an approach that simultaneously expands jobs and supports free markets. This must be at the heart of any effort to push Maine’s economy forward.

Our state can no longer afford policies at the expense of local businesses and hard-working Mainers who are already suffering financially amid this pandemic. We must instead advance a more thoughtful approach that puts job creators in the driver’s seat.

About Matthew Gagnon

Matthew Gagnon, of Yarmouth, is the Chief Executive Officer of Maine Policy Institute. Prior to his tenure at Maine Policy Matt spent eight years working in national politics in Washington, D.C., most recently as a senior strategist for the Republican Governors Association. A Hampden native, Matt is a nationally recognized political strategist and communicator.

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