It’s the three Es — energy, education and the economy. That’s the agenda Gov. Paul LePage wants to bring to the table when the Legislature gets back in gear in January. The governor outlined what he sees as the key issues recently in a speech to the Augusta Kiwanis Club.
Those three issues reflect the right priorities, although one could argue that last one — the economy — is redundant. Energy and education both relate to building a better climate in Maine for both workers and entrepreneurs.
Between now and January, the governor would do well to develop a short list of practical, achievable goals that fit legislative parameters. Executive decisions, departmental fiats and insider deals with businesses should not mark his approach. Rather, he must work with the Legislature and accept that his ideas will be molded, vetted and modified, and trust that they will better for that process.
Easing the high cost of electricity and moving the state away from reliance on heating oil is a gargantuan task, but one that can be attacked incrementally. He must set aside partisan ideology and build on the efforts in this realm by the last administration.
The governor also must realize that if tax breaks are offered to businesses to provide incentives to tighten up buildings and upgrade heating plants to more efficient technology, the hole in the budget should not be filled by cuts that hurt Maine’s poorer people.
Education, the governor realizes, is a long-term investment that will pay off not next year but perhaps next decade. A better educated work force will be sought out by businesses which will relocate or expand in Maine.
And he has returned to his campaign goal of using high schools to allow students to earn associate degrees. The details of this remain elusive and problematic; a better approach might be to assert his desire to have more options for students to learn job-related skills and let those in the Legislature who are well-versed in education issues develop the plan.
In his speech, the governor also restated the accomplishments of his first months: easing regulations to help business and cutting tax rates. Part of this general push to make Maine business-friendly must include a review of existing tax breaks with an eye to what works and what doesn’t.
Gov. LePage’s frequent comments about helping business thrive should be reframed to ensure they are part of a larger belief. He won the election, in part, by persuading voters that if businesses are flourishing, rank-and-file workers will be able to find jobs and earn better wages as their employers succeed. Too often, the governor expresses concern for the plight of business owners, and not enough for workers.
Gov. LePage has made his office and administration friendly to business owners and managers — as it should be — but in his focus on improving the economy, a deeper sensitivity to the needs of the working poor and middle-class would be welcomed.