For nearly two years, Maine’s governor has supported businesses by way of choosing smart policies, making strategic investments and changing attitudes. It’s no surprise that with hard work you get results, and job creators have noticed the changes. However, some argue that Gov. Paul LePage is hurting Maine’s business climate because he has said he will not issue bonds until 2014.
“LePage’s restriction on bonds hurts businesses he claims to support” authored by Emily Shaw in the July 25 edition of the BDN failed to share all the facts. The truth is none of these projects were required to commit to any job creation. The Communities for Maine’s Future statutes, which were developed by the Democratic-controlled 124th Legislature (2008-2010), outline broad and vague criteria in evaluating proposals for funding purposes.
Maine taxpayers deserve a quality return on their investment. A careful review of the proposed projects reveals that very few will actually create new, permanent, full-time jobs. “Improving the pedestrian experience in our downtown” is secondary to creating quality job opportunities for Mainers.
Additionally, Shaw indicates that “one by one, those towns found private investors.” Again, a thorough review of the project proposals reveals that very limited private-sector monies are being injected into these projects. In some cases, nearly all of the funding for an entire project was borne by Maine taxpayers in the form of federal grants, more state grants or direct community taxpayer dollars.
Every governor has had the choice to issue bonds in a timely manner, and it is the responsibility of Maine’s chief executive to do just that. LePage has maintained that it is his intent to sell bonds, before they expire in 2015, in order to support projects that provide a return to Maine taxpayers.
It is critical that Maine rein in spending, particularly when we are spending borrowed money that must be paid back with interest by Maine taxpayers. The state is set to spend more than $100 million a year through the end of fiscal year 2013 on debt service from already-issued general obligation bonds. Additionally, Maine owes nearly $500 million to hospitals. We must pay our bills first and exhibit fiscal responsibility.
Shaw’s piece also neglects to say that the governor’s decision does not preclude communities from pursuing other funding options. While this money was secured and authorized by voters, the time in which bonds are sold has always been fluid. What the governor has said is that these communities can’t dip into the cash reserve fund to tide them over until such a time. The governor has also offered to guarantee that these loans will be issued. All he is asking communities for is a little outside-the-box thinking. The taxpayers’ pockets are not the only bank in town.
While Mainers are faced with balancing their checkbooks, the state is no different. We now have a chief executive who is not afraid to make hard decisions regarding taking out loans. The governor is committed to strategic investments that assist our job creators, and this approach helps, rather than hurts, the business community.
John Butera is the governor’s senior economic policy advisor.