Gov. Paul LePage will give his State of the State address on Tuesday night. It will be a good time for him to emphasize accomplishments but also needed improvements. Many of the following suggested points likely won’t be included in the speech, but, if they are, they would signify a recognition of past missteps and future promise:
• Education has been a priority of my administration since the day I took office. It will remain so, but those of us who work in the State House must change the way we talk about schools, students and teachers in Maine. Let’s not let politics poison Maine’s learning environment.
Good educators and good leaders recognize the importance of modeling appropriate behavior, and we in state government haven’t done so. For political leaders, that means substantiating claims with facts, which is what good teachers expect from their students. It also means engaging in fair, honest and direct communication that does not impugn the motives of those with whom we disagree.
Critical thinking, objective analysis of data and dialogue that values consensus over ideology will yield education policies that put students first.
• Republicans and Democrats worked well together in 2012 to help reduce domestic violence in Maine. We enacted laws sponsored by Democrats and Republicans to better protect domestic violence survivors. That collaboration must continue as Maine focuses on prevention.
We also must acknowledge that domestic violence often pushes survivors into poverty, which is one of the key reasons why public assistance programs exist. For that reason, we can no longer compartmentalize or dehumanize government’s approach to social services.
We face challenges in paying for a safety net at this time of economic hardship, but as we address those challenges, we must keep at the forefront of our deliberations the faces and stories of Maine people who need our help to recover from domestic abuse and other equally debilitating causes of poverty.
• The cost of providing services to Maine residents whose medical conditions make it impossible to care for themselves creates the greatest strain on the state’s health and human services budget. Five percent of the state’s MaineCare recipients account for more than 50 percent of the program’s budget.
They are people who, a generation ago, would likely have been institutionalized. Mainers should acknowledge it’s a good thing that these people can now live as independently as their conditions allow. State government, medical professionals and caregivers must work together to find more cost-effective ways to provide the services they need within the communities that they enrich by their presence.
• Maine’s prolonged financial problems require structural change at all levels of government. That change must come with equal input from state government, municipalities and school districts — and it must include a careful cost-value assessment of local control.
Past reform attempts in which state government used its funding authority to force changes upon municipalities and school districts failed because state government’s authoritarian approach created adversarial relationships that shifted the focus from shared savings to self-interest. For that reason, I propose that state government work together with municipalities and school districts to help find enough shared savings for the next biennium to fund municipal revenue sharing.
• Government’s focus on addressing Maine’s problems should not distract us from recognizing the state’s assets and promoting them to others. Maine is a peaceful and beautiful state, and its people contribute to a quality of life that residents of other states admire and in which we should all take pride.