PORTLAND, Maine — U.S. Rep. and Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mike Michaud on Wednesday released his plan to build Maine’s economy during a campaign event at Portland’s Rosemont Market.
Michaud calls his plan “Maine Made.” At 33 pages, it lays out policy goals that include a plan to raise Maine’s minimum wage from $7.50 to $9 per hour and make the sophomore year of college at any school in the University of Maine system tuition-free.
According to Michaud, the plan offers “concrete proposals we can implement on Day One.” Each proposal has a price tag attached, and Michaud said the plan will cost just $36 million in the first year — a sum he thinks can easily be found by the Legislature.
The plan is Michaud’s first major policy initiative released in association with his campaign for governor. Its release kicks off three days of campaigning throughout the state, with stops in Bangor, Ellsworth, the University of Maine, Auburn, Ogunquit, Freeport, Topsham and Rockland.
During the campaign swing, Michaud will meet with business owners, municipal officials, students and other voters to discuss his economic development plan.
“Maine Made” outlines initiatives in six areas, prioritizing what Michaud says are the advantages Maine has over other states, such as its large small-business sector, its farms and fisheries, its renewable energy resources and its thriving tourism industry, built on the back of the state’s scenic coast, mountains and towns.
The plan also takes aim at workforce development, such as the proposal to make sophomore year at any Maine university free for students, and what Michaud calls the “community advantage,” which includes expanding MaineCare to roughly 70,000 low-income Mainers.
The keystone of the plan, though, is a 10-year “compact with small businesses,” which Michaud said would amount to $100 million annually to boost business development, growth and job creation through infrastructure projects, small business grants, energy efficiency measures and other initiatives. The compact funds many of the other proposals in Michaud’s plan.
“No more annual bickering about bonds. No more chronic underfunding of public investments with Maine towns and small businesses left to foot the bill,” he wrote in the plan — a reference to near-constant politicking over bonds under Gov. Paul LePage, Michaud’s Republican opponent in this year’s gubernatorial election, and cuts to state aid for municipalities that have left local governments scrambling to make up the difference.
Michaud said that while the price tag seems big, it’s not much more than the state bonds each year, on average, and will only result in an additional $1.3 million per year in debt service. In total, Michaud estimates his proposals will cost $36 million in each of his first two years in office.
Still, the six-term congressman from Maine’s rural, northern 2nd Congressional District said he thinks the plan is affordable, and that long-term vision will create a more stable business environment that will make private investment in Maine more attractive.
“Having served in the Maine Legislature for a number of years, I know that when the governor wants to move forward with presenting his budget to the Legislature, they can find the resources they need,” Michaud said Wednesday.
“Budgets are priorities,” he added, later taking a jab at LePage’s huge tax cut package, passed while Republicans controlled the Legislature in 2012, which he said created a huge budget shortfall.
A third gubernatorial candidate, independent Eliot Cutler, in September released his own plan for Maine’s economy in the form of a 114-page booklet title “A State of Opportunity.” Michaud and Cutler have been at odds ever since the Democrat starting pulling in endorsements from several major groups that Cutler had also courted.
On Wednesday, Cutler’s communications director, Crystal Canney, said Michaud had taken cues from Cutler’s book, and cast Michaud as a stereotypical tax-and-spend liberal.
“We’re pleased to see that he has taken a number of themes from Eliot’s book — leveraging Maine’s competitive advantages, branding and tourism, and growing agriculture,” she wrote in a statement. “Mike’s approach is a typical Washington, D.C., big-government, big-spending approach with lots of new programs and millions of dollars in new spending. Under Michaud, the spending spigot will be full on, especially for the special interest groups lobbying Maine’s Legislature.”
With the election still nine months away, LePage has largely left his opponents to duke it out with each other on the campaign trail, with the exception of a campaign kickoff event in Augusta last November.
However, on Wednesday, LePage’s campaign chief, Brent Littlefield, blasted Michaud’s plan before it had even been made public, saying LePage was the best candidate to grow Maine’s economy.
“Paul LePage has spent most of his lifetime turning around business, creating jobs and helping grow Maine’s economy,” Littlefield said. “Having survived homelessness, no one knows more or cares more about Maine’s working poor and middle class than Paul LePage.”
Follow Mario Moretto on Twitter at @riocarmine.