PORTLAND, Maine — John “Jock” McKernan, former Maine governor and current adviser for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation, urged hundreds of Maine business people to call for federal policies that promote faster economic growth.
McKernan laid out a vision for the country to return to annual gross domestic product growth between 3 percent and 4 percent and endorsed Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush as “the one thinking about this.”
“I’m sure all of the candidates will have economic growth platforms, but they’ve not talked about it much,” McKernan said in an interview Tuesday after his talk.
His presentation was the first in the 30th season of monthly Eggs and Issues events hosted by the Portland Regional Chamber at the Holiday Inn By the Bay.
McKernan laid out the case made by an economic report titled “The Growth Imperative,” issued by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation last year. McKernan was president of the foundation until March 2015 and is now a senior adviser for the group.
The measure of the country’s output since the recession has hovered at about 2.3 percent, a level McKernan said the Congressional Budget Office projects will continue until 2024. He argued that is out of line with an average U.S. growth rate of 3.3 percent from 1947 to 2013, which he said “served the country so well.”
For Maine and other states, he said, there’s much at stake in the formation of federal policy.
“We follow the national economy, and we all have a stake in getting more pro-growth policies at the federal level,” McKernan said.
Much of his talk emphasized education reforms, an area in which McKernan has been involved throughout his career, serving on the board of directors and leading the for-profit college Education Management Corp. for periods between 1999 to 2012. The former Republican governor and husband of former Republican U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe is chairman of the board of directors of the Foundation for Maine’s Community Colleges.
The ties to education brought questions from leaders of the University of Southern Maine and Southern Maine Community College.
Glenn Cummings, USM’s president and former Democratic speaker of the Maine House from 2006 to 2008, asked McKernan whether policies to accelerate the country’s economic growth would mean widening the gap in earnings between the country’s richest and middle-class residents.
McKernan suggested that education could be a leading solution to the problem of income disparity.
“When you look at the wage gap issues and inequality, a lot of it is based on lack of necessary education for higher paying jobs,” McKernan said.
Critics of Bush’s tax reform and economic growth plan, which the candidate explained in a Sept. 8 Wall Street Journal op-ed, argue it instead will widen the gap between the haves and have-nots by granting tax breaks that benefit wealthy Americans disproportionately.
The platform he detailed called for workforce development initiatives — including education reform and immigration reform — to allow trained workers to come here legally. He also said the Chamber Foundation’s plan urges tax reform, expansion of free trade agreements, regulatory changes and energy market reforms.
McKernan has led the U.S. Chamber’s effort to publicize the report, giving similar presentations to other business and local chamber of commerce groups earlier this year.