March 20, 2018
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Maine could get it right on health care, education, jobs — if Legislature involved those with know-how in problem-solving

By Cary Weston, Special to the BDN

We all know Maine has challenges. I believe we also have the answers.

Whether it’s health care, education or economic development, there are pathways to successful solutions just waiting to be included in the conversation.

For example, when it comes to the Medicaid discussion, policymakers have voiced concerns over cost, scalability, efficiency and affordability.

And rightfully so.

Here in the Bangor Region, those same concerns led health care partners St. Joseph’s Hospital, Eastern Maine Medical Center and Penobscot Community Health Care to initiate an effort called the “Beacon” project.

By working together in a collaborative, whole-patient approach, the partners were able to efficiently design a system that allowed them to share information, be proactive and decrease expenditures by offering care in the lowest-cost environment without sacrificing quality.

These partners should be sought after and invited to be part of the discussion with lawmakers who are seeking effective solutions.

But sadly, they are not.

In educational reports, experts have stated that poverty is the most influential factor in determining the level of achievement a student attains in the classroom. In study after study, underperforming schools attribute failing marks to poverty ratios and rising percentages of their school district’s population qualifying for free and reduced-price meal programs.

Like many regions throughout the state, Bangor is no stranger to poverty.

Yet, despite 52 percent of students identified by the federal government as qualifying for free and reduced-price meals (the standard used to measure school-aged poverty), the Bangor school system is consistently recognized for exceeding national educational standards.

However, as lawmakers in Augusta discuss educational standards, increasing overall student success rates, and ways to do more with less, schools such as Bangor are not invited to the table to help define the issues and shape solutions.

It’s no different with economic development.

Opportunities to attract businesses, retain employers and increase well-paying jobs should be at the heart of our state’s economic development efforts.

The city of Bangor is the largest single municipal sales tax contributor to the state’s general fund each year. Focused efforts have created energy and excitement for the region’s economic future. And because of collaborative public-private partnerships, such as that of Mobilize Eastern Maine, Friends of the Arena and Library Yes, investments are being made with confidence. The investments will impact the region’s economy for years to come.

In 2014, neighboring Hermon anticipates hundreds of new jobs from employers investing in the region. These gains mean increased tax revenues for the town, which brings greater stability to the overall tax base and town budgets.

Both Bangor and Hermon are fantastic examples of municipalities, small and large, using innovation and enthusiasm to create a vibrant community in which to live, work and play.

Yet the effort and impact of municipalities statewide are often ignored in the state’s economic development strategies. Municipal revenue sharing, a long-standing agreement to help offset vital infrastructure upkeep, is characterized in legislative discussions as an undeserved privilege and dismissed as nothing more than a money-grab for local governments.

Instead, it should be seen for what it is: necessary support for the income-generating activities at the local level, which drive the state’s economic opportunities.

When I had the privilege of serving as Bangor City Council chairman, our council recognized that the challenges we faced were not unlike those affecting many other regions. From that realization, I worked to form the statewide Mayor’s Coalition. I did so to find ideas from others across Maine who offered insight and experience to help us solve the collective problems we all faced. That collaboration continues to be beneficial to Bangor and other participating communities throughout the state.

Perhaps the Bangor region doesn’t hold the answers to all our state’s problems.

I do believe, however, that the practice of collaboration, cooperation and innovation being demonstrated here is a model that should be explored by lawmakers in Augusta.

Maine is a special place filled with creative and energetic folks willing to work for the common good. And Maine’s future is in our hands.

The answers to our challenges reside in our communities, and lawmakers need the courage to seek counsel from those across Maine who are demonstrating how to do it well.

Let’s get it right.

Cary Weston is a partner at Sutherland Weston Marketing Communications in Bangor and is a Republican candidate for state Senate to serve Bangor and Hermon.


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