Now that the Labor Day holiday is in the rearview mirror, the fall election season is officially in gear. The most important race this year is for governor, and between now and Nov. 2, the five candidates must outline specific positions and plans on the key issues that face our state. The day after being inaugurated, the next governor must tackle budget shortfalls and pension payment deadlines — no small challenges. But setting the agenda more broadly, a handful of areas of focus emerges.
Topping the list in this recession is reversing the perception that Maine is a difficult place to start and operate a business. To do so, the next governor must first be a cheerleader rather than repeat the gloomy mantra about Maine’s business climate challenges. He or she must identify the positives — a labor force with a good work ethic, low real estate costs, low crime rates and good quality of life — and trumpet them to those businesses considering relocating.
Then, the next governor must examine the regulatory hurdles and make changes that ease the permitting process while also protecting people and the environment.
A well-conceived plan to broaden the tax burden and lower the income tax rate was defeated at the polls in June, so the new governor must lead the way on another proposal that will encourage investment here, while providing a more predictable revenue stream. Part of the tax problem calls for lowering the cost of state government, but it must be done in a way that does not shift costs to the local property tax.
The next governor will have the political will at his or her back to rethink state government so it takes on fewer tasks by letting go of some issues. It’s a once-in-a-generation opportunity, and it can’t be done cavalierly or too timidly.
The best long-term solution for Maine’s economy is a well-educated work force. But the state can’t go broke providing it. The new governor must lead local school districts toward efficient management while also producing better educational results. The state university system must be reconfigured administratively, with its courses tailored to new economic opportunities. As a related issue, the next governor must find a way to grow the state’s stagnant population, by attracting young, educated people and keeping those raised in Maine at home.
Energy presents a huge challenge. The new governor must be ready to take bold steps to lower the cost of electricity — the biggest disincentive to doing business in Maine — even if it means having state government using a heavy hand in regulating utilities. A related issue is making the most of our energy spending — Maine homes and other buildings must retain heat better than ever before. An opportunity that comes with energy is getting in on the ground floor in manufacturing new electric generating hardware.
Through all of this work the next governor must undertake, he or she must be vigilant in preserving and enhancing Maine’s quality of place and life.
We look forward to — and expect — the candidates to articulate specific plans or approaches to these matters.