The gaggle of gubernatorial hopefuls for 2010 has a very simple path to win the hearts of Maine voters. All candidates have to do is convince voters they will create more jobs and reduce state taxes. Piece of cake, right?
Two pollsters working in Maine say their surveys have found voters want to see job retention and creation, while also seeing state spending cuts. Energy prices and the faltering global and national economy also are high on the list of voter concerns.
As candidates for governor (and at least one for Congress) step in front of reporters to make their pitches, it’s easy to separate the neophytes from the veterans. The neophytes explain how easy it will be to cut taxes. State government is bloated, they say, and someone just needs to be strong enough to make the tough decisions.
What, specifically, would you cut? Well, those details will come later. If they watched the current governor and Legislature cut more than $500 million from the state budget, they would do well to drop the claim that cutting is easy.
Candidates also would do well to tone down their rhetoric on job creation. Maine’s economy is, and has been, hampered by factors no governor has the power to change. Our cold weather, which results in high energy costs, is one. Geographic distance from markets is another. The lack of population centers and the high median age are two more.
A governor can work to create a climate for economic growth, through tax incentives and investment in education, transportation and economic development. But that involves spending money. And the governor can’t help depressed regions of the state by, for example, moving the Department of Health and Human Services office from Augusta to Eastport, or relocating the Department of Environmental Protection to Ashland. Those moves would create jobs in those regions, but would hardly be seen as fiscally efficient or wise.
And this leads to the inverse relationship between jobs and the taxes that pay for state government. When jobs disappear, as they have over the last year and will likely continue through the end of 2009, and when those with jobs are earning less and businesses are seeing smaller profits, state government gets less revenue. Then there is a hue and cry for cutting state spending.
When jobs return, more money will flow to Augusta. And it is then that a governor’s mettle will be tested. Experience that shows the ability to resist the growth of government, to turn down worthy new programs should top a candidate’s resume.
The only jobs a governor creates are within state government. But a willingness to at least consider how laws affect business is essential.
Fortunately, candidates have time to refine their messages.