HERMON, Maine — Former Maine Gov. John Baldacci said Tuesday that politicians need to collaborate and cooperate to put America on a solid fiscal path before the nation’s $16 trillion debt gets further out of hand. Baldacci also said he might consider running again for political office.
“I’m looking at it,” Baldacci said when asked whether he planned to run again before delivering a speech at the Bangor Region Chamber of Commerce’s annual business breakfast Tuesday morning at Morgan Hill Event Center in Hermon. “It’s not about me, it’s really about making sure that we get things on the right track in Maine, and that’s what I’m more concerned about.”
The focus of Baldacci’s speech was the national debt, which is more than $16 trillion, and the importance of parties working together to put America on a better fiscal path.
Baldacci, who today is senior advisor for economic development and government relations at the Pierce Atwood law firm in Portland, is also co-chairing Maine’s Fix the Debt campaign with a former adversary, Rick Bennett.
Fix the Debt is a nationwide, nonpartisan effort to engage legislators, community leaders and businesses across the country who want to see elected officials step up to solve our nation’s fiscal challenges, according to the organization’s website. Baldacci and Bennett are in charge of the Maine branch of Fix the Debt.
Bennett and Baldacci ran against each other in 1994 for a seat on the U.S. Congress. The race was hotly contested, attracting heavy media attention and feisty political advertising, and left both candidates with “a lot of battle wounds,” Baldacci said. The two have come together because they agree on the importance of the debt issue, he added. The former governor and his former opponent have visited editorial boards and members of the congressional delegation as part of the national Fix the Debt campaign.
“I wanted to focus on working together to address the national debt,” Baldacci said before he spoke at the chamber breakfast. “I’m not happy about the fighting; I’m not happy about the ideological partisanship that’s been shown; and I’m not happy about [Maine] becoming a joke on Saturday Night Live.”
Baldacci argued that bipartisan leadership efforts in Maine from Sens. Olympia Snowe, Susan Collins and new Sen. Angus King should be a model for lawmakers across the nation working to solve the U.S. debt problem.
“We’re the laboratory,” Baldacci said.
The $16-trillion debt — which is more than 355 times the gross domestic product of Maine — stunts the economy, and high interest rates compound the problem, according to the former two-term governor.
“It’s a serious issue,” Baldacci said. “We take $600 billion per year out of our budget for those interest payments.” Those payments “crowd out” spending on defense, education and health care.
“I felt that if [Bennett and I] could get together on this issue, then it would hopefully demonstrate to others that we need to join forces regardless of being a Republican, Democrat or Independent,” Baldacci said.
The former governor, who was at the helm of efforts to consolidate jails and schools, some of which have split after consolidation bids left some towns displeased with the results, said the federal government needs to work to consolidate and become more efficient.
For example, Baldacci expressed frustration during his speech over the fact that each branch of the U.S. military has its own health care department.
“Stuff that we’re going through in Maine in terms of reorganizations and integrations has to be done nationally,” he said.
While Baldacci was in Congress, he consistently got low ratings from Citizens Against Government Waste, a private, nonpartisan, nonprofit organization that monitors federal spending.
Baldacci also touched on Maine’s proposed budget, which includes controversial cuts such as the two-year suspension of the state’s municipal revenue sharing program, which has sparked consternation in some Maine communities that could see significant revenue reductions as a result.
Gov. Paul LePage also announced a spending curtailment of $33.5 million, which included $12.6 million in reductions to local school aid. LePage also planned to announce on Tuesday a plan to repay $186 million to Maine hospitals.
“I think the governor’s priorities are different than my priorities,” Baldacci said. “I appreciate the hard work of balancing a budget with a $700 million or $800 million structural gap,” but Baldacci said his focus would have been investing in education and research and development.