If elected, independent candidate for governor Eliot Cutler would crank up a regulation shredder as way to build the economy, he said recently. Such proposals should be greeted with skepticism because they may merely pander to voters. Or, worse, such plans could risk weakening important gains made over the past 40 years that created a bulwark between business and public health and safety.
But this proposal comes from Cutler, who worked with the late-Sen. Ed Muskie to create the Clean Water and Clean Air acts, so skeptics may give the candidate the benefit of some doubt about his commitment to environmental and public health.
“We’re going look at every rule and regulation that’s on the books, and we’re going to ask Maine businesses to tell us about the unnecessary, unfair, unintelligible rules that are keeping them from growing and investing,” Cutler said in the announcement. “Then we are going to change or repeal them. It’s time for some housecleaning.”
If elected, Cutler also would do well to learn why such regulations were adopted, and should also lend an ear to groups whose mission is to protect the public from the fallout of an unfettered business climate.
In addition to cutting regulations, the candidate wants to further consolidate state bureaucracies, including abolishing the Board of Environmental Protection. The BEP acts, among other things, as a citizen board to review large-scale projects approved by the professionals in the Department of Environmental Protection. Cutler would replace the BEP with a three-judge Court of Appellate Review.
He also wants to take permitting and licensing powers away from the Land Use Regulation Commission and give them to DEP, arguing that LURC should plan, not permit. He cites what he calls the “train wreck” process that was LURC’s review of the Plum Creek development project in the Moosehead Lake region.
Both steps, while bold, may be needed.
Predicting how successful these moves would be is tied to intent and implementation. If a new governor wants to subversively neuter government, rather than make it more efficient, voters are wise to be wary of such proposals. Similarly, if the next governor fails to understand the complexity of the checks and balances within state regulatory departments, and sees the problem in an overly simplistic way, the unintended consequences could be catastrophic.
Cutler also outlines his plan for streamlining and empowering a Department of Commerce to replace the Department of Economic and Community Development, and adding several ancillary economic offices to it. He also calls for more funding for the Maine Tourism Office — refreshing in that the candidate is signaling that he would not use the governor’s power merely to cut, but to spend where it yields returns.
Cutler has set the bar high with the detailed structural changes he is proposing, both in economic development and in higher education, which he announced previously. If — when — the other candidates promise to remake state government in a leaner, more efficient manner, they must match this level of specificity.