Maine’s blessings a foundation for the future

Posted Dec. 14, 2009, at 11:49 a.m.

In a season of recession, high energy costs and taxes, unemployment and budget cuts, it is important to count the ways Maine is blessed. We are blessed with town meetings and a sense of community worthy of what Alexis DeToqueville described in “Democracy in America” some 170 years ago. We are a state still founded on private property rights, family business and the Bill of Rights, where mixing religion and politics is not confused with separating church and state. We are a state with an exceptionally high ratio of nonprofits and churches per population, suggesting that we have not totally institutionalized charity into government but rather retain individual compassion and responsibility. These are core values we can and must reaffirm.

While Maine rightly honors its past, we must now focus on the future. Futurist Francis Fukuyama recently spent a decade striving to uncover the single concept that will allow one future community, state or nation to stand out and above the rest. In our high-tech, value- added global economy, he found that the singular quality was not size of population, natural resource base or even human capital, but rather the quality called “trust.”

We Mainers should take pride in our trust-filled state, so exemplified by our open country with so few no-trespassing signs, our unattended rural, roadside vegetable stands with their little cash jars and signs that read “make your own change.” Such Maine trust is as invaluable as it is globally rare.

In terms of our economy, too often we fail to see the proverbial long-term Maine forest for the short-term trees. We need to remind ourselves that, out there, we have the largest contiguous commercial forest east of the Mississippi; our seaports are one half day closer to Europe by containership than are the ports of Baltimore and New York, we have half the land mass of New England and the best ocean sailing west of the Aegean Sea. We adjoin the vast East Coast market; we are the Maritimes’ corridor to the continent, Quebec’s corridor to the sea.

If President Barack Obama is to achieve a national reduction of carbon emissions of 15 to 20 percent, the best location to build the Northeast share is on as little as 1 percent of our 3,500 miles of cold, high current, deepwater coastline. We have investors who would build east-west and I-95 transportation-energy corridors, creating jobs and tax base at no cost to Maine taxpayers.

These visions are centered on free enterprise. There is limited need for state bond issues or taxation. Such private investments will add to long-term state revenues for all Mainers even with lower tax rates. And such lower rates would also encourage our exported children, seniors and summer millionaires to bring their residencies and investments home.

We need to reaffirm that we prize the industriousness of Maine people and investors in our state as the long-term source of quality of life for all. Revitalize the finances of Maine families in the years ahead, and we will have funding for our schools, roads, education, welfare and health care, conservation, universities, state and local government, security and judiciary.

Such a vision of Maine is ready to unfold. Just consider our new diversity. The children of Hispanic immigrants drawn to Milbridge by the wreath and blueberry industries constitute 30 percent of the elementary schools, reversing enrollment declines. Maine’s private rural high schools are filling up with students from China and beyond, coming because of who we are. The 800 associates of Barber Foods in Portland speak 30 different languages.

Husson’s faculty and students of Christian, Buddhist, Muslim and Jewish faith study, work and play side by side. A homeless boy spends night and day playing online games with teammates from South Africa and New Zealand. A nephew interacts with West Coast and Persian Gulf clients from camp in Surry. Diversity is but one example of Maine’s entrepreneurial spirit waiting to be unleashed. It is but one example of the largesse of Maine trust.

Bill Beardsley is president of Husson University.

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