In June 1991, Angus King was in the Augusta law library researching a story for his television show when he saw the light — figures that showed the economic boom of the 1980s was particularly kind to the state budget, which had increased threefold.
At the time, this information was fodder for King the journalist, then the host of public television’s MaineWatch. “My God, does anybody know this?” he asked himself then.
They do now.
And so the trends of state government now feed the graphs and charts that King carries with him as he canvasses the state in his independent bid for governor. And like any candidate on the rubber-chicken circuit, King has plenty of statistics and anecdotes to illustrate the ills facing Maine business, government and her citizens.
Like some of the other candidates, King, addressing the Maine Metal Products Association in Bangor Thursday night, rolled up his sleeves and told of Maine being at a crossroads: Begin to do things right, and the state can pull itself out of its economic and political abyss; maintain the status quo, and end up a tourist destination or, as one friend of his described it, “a Caribbean nation without the climate.”
Maine government, whether it’s decidedly partisan State House politics or it’s sincere efforts at ensuring environmental security, tends to get in the way of private and public progress, he said. From the four government employees it took to attend to his wife’s car registration to the burdensome permitting process for business, the state’s bureaucracy simply gets in the way.
“And the bottom line is, jobs are being sucked right out of Maine,” said King, who also announced that he favors the Nov. 2 referendum for term limits.
Heads nodded as King reeled off his statistics: Manufacturing jobs in Maine have decreased by 20 percent in recent years — about 2 1/2 times the national average — while service jobs have increased, leaving the state with a growing industry that pays less and provides fewer spinoff jobs. But if these figures show that solid jobs and even people are leaving the state, government in Maine, at all levels, is the place to be: There are 75,000 Mainers employed at various levels of government, he said.
“Government was the growth industry of the ’80s,” King, a former businessman and lawyer from Brunswick, said.
And for King, bigger hasn’t necessarily been better. The state’s penchant for collecting revenue, and then spending every penny, leaves something to be desired, said King, who added that his favorite example of creative accounting is how the state claims nearly $11 million in savings in the current budget by holding employees’ paychecks until July 1, 1995, when the new fiscal year begins.
“But that’s only going to work if 1995 has 53 weeks, which it doesn’t,” he said. “Even the Legislature can’t do that.”
But if King primed his audience with its share of doom and gloom, he also provided them with his own solutions, which he acknowledges are still being molded as he forms his campaign.
Keeping the economy strong, he said, is something of a chain reaction, which can work either for or against the state. If taxes continue to increase, people and business are driven out of Maine, leaving the state with a smaller revenue base from which to provide services.
“That’s what they don’t seem to understand — jobs can walk — jobs can move out of the state very rapidly,” he said, later calling for a long-range economic design for the state that would include holding the budget line and smoothing partisan feathers.
King, who must draw a fair share of the state’s angry electorate to win the gubernatorial contest a year from now, has portrayed himself as a reluctant candidate without political aspirations, a citizen drawn into the arena by his own disgust with the status quo.
“I think there’s a job to be done, and I couldn’t sit on the sidelines anymore and watch Maine going down the tubes,” he said.