LEWISTON — Democratic candidate for governor Libby Mitchell has unveiled what she called the foundation of a plan to make state government more efficient, accessible and productive.
Mitchell, one of five candidates for governor, has been working with a policy advisory committee for several weeks to hatch ideas, which she shared with reporters Friday during a midday press conference at a Democratic Party field office on Lisbon Street in Lewiston.
Titled “Government for the 21st Century,” Mitchell’s plan includes several initiatives.
She proposes the creation of two new entities within the governor’s office. The Office of Strategic Initiatives and Job Creation would fold together the Department of Economic and Community Development and the State Planning Office. Mitchell said this new entity would allow her as governor to focus on a single economic development strategy as opposed to having various government agencies “pursuing a sprawling set of goals that change over time,” according to an outline of her plan provided to reporters.
The Office of Business Advocates, which would also be within the governor’s office, would serve as a resource to businesses trying to navigate the state’s various programs and regulations. This would streamline the process a new or expanding business must go through to receive permits, tax incentives and other government approvals, said Mitchell.
Mitchell also called for a detailed review of tax laws with the intent of making Maine more competitive with other states in terms of its tax burden. The review would be conducted by tax experts, business owners, legislators and investors.
Mitchell proposes empowering the state’s regulatory agencies to be more flexible when enforcing regulations while maintaining strict standards. This means businesses would have the opportunity to propose easier ways to satisfy regulations on a case-by-case basis.
In addition, Mitchell proposes holding private contractors doing work for the state more accountable for meeting deadlines and efficiency benchmarks. Contracts under her proposal would include “claw-back provisions” that allow the state to recover money if contracts are not met.
She also proposes instituting what is known in the corporate world as a LEAN management philosophy, in which processes, costs and practices are eliminated if they do not result in the best possible outcome for users.
Mitchell also wants to make state government agencies more transparent by making them broadcast their deliberations on the Internet and make forms and data more available online. That includes requiring political appointees and candidates to meet a higher level of disclosure of their business dealings.
“Everything I’ve said here is based on end results,” said Mitchell. “I want to create a culture of making things work, a culture of high expectations.”
Mitchell said she intends to roll out more reform proposals over the next four weeks in the areas of jobs and economic development, health care, energy and the environment and education.
Some of the other candidates for governor reacted harshly to Mitchell’s proposal. Independent Kevin Scott said her plan “lacks sincerity from inception.”
“Clearly the plan would stand on much better ground if it was crafted and overseen by way of Maine’s creative economy,” Scott said in a written statement. “The current national party grip on the political process in Maine and elsewhere has resulted in plans of this nature, brought forth by those who are in power, lacking innovation and doomed to suffer at the hands of entrenched interests. It is made clear by this plan that those with new, innovative ideas are not welcome to the table of much-needed governmental downsizing.”
Independent Eliot Cutler called the plan “cosmetic and nearly frivolous” and said Mitchell continues to defend the “status quo” in Augusta.
“Her plan amounts to window dressing on a record deeply unfriendly to business and private sector jobs,” he said in a written statement, making reference to Mitchell’s sponsorship of an unsuccessful bill in the last legislative session that would have required businesses to provide paid sick leave for employees. “Libby’s sick leave proposal would have increased the already high cost of doing business in Maine and would have made Maine even less competitive with other states.”
Republican Paul LePage and independent Shawn Moody did not respond to requests for comment by press time.
Mitchell said the details of her plan may not be “headline grabbers,” but that when combined with other policy changes she intends to propose in the coming weeks, they will foster a relationship of partnership between businesses and state government instead of an adversarial one.
“The difference for me now is that I’ve never been governor,” she said. “My focus is going to be getting Mainers back to work and making government the leaders in going out and creating jobs. Just changing the culture in state government would be huge.”