AUGUSTA, Maine — Eliot Cutler has outlined his plan for turning around Maine’s economy and attracting more young people — his top two priorities — in a campaign book released Wednesday.
In the book, titled “A State of Opportunity,” the independent candidate for governor in 2014 says the state can be a good place to live and earn a living if a long-term plan is established to invigorate the stagnant economy and attract more educated young people and immigrants to the Pine Tree State.
The book, which can be downloaded from the campaign’s website, levels criticisms at Republicans and Democrats, arguing that leaders of the two parties in Maine are more interested in partisan attacks than solving the state’s problems.
“Many of our leaders have come to look at politics, and at governing itself, as a zero-sum, winner-take-all, blood sport,” he wrote. “In that sort of environment, sound solutions to difficult and complex problems … not only are hard to come by, they are nearly impossible to implement.”
The book begins with an outline of what Cutler, a former Democrat, says has gone wrong in Maine since the late ‘90s. Namely, per capita income, population and median wages have stood still or declined. Nonfarm jobs trended downward from 1999 to 2012, he said, citing figures from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
“Maine’s economy has stood still for more than a decade,” Cutler writes, describing the last 10 years as a “lost decade.”
Cutler goes into detail about why a lack of planning by government leaders is to blame for that lost decade. He says those in leadership positions have failed to adapt to changing economic realities and map out a course for future prosperity.
He follows with a series of goals that government should shoot for by 2020, including matching the national growth rate in jobs and employment, spending less on health care than the state does today, full reading proficiency for all students by third grade and full access to postsecondary education.
He also says the state should shoot for twice the number of annual visitors per year, with increased spending by each visitor; doubling the amount of agricultural land and increasing by 20 times the amount under year-round cultivation. Lastly, Cutler says the state should shoot to reverse the downward demographic spiral, seeing more births than deaths in 2020.
To achieve some of those goals, he includes proposals that largely mirror his 2010 gubernatorial campaign themes: A state version of the federal Base Realignment and Closure Commission that would force the Legislature to take an up-or-down vote on a series of state agency and program eliminations, consolidation of the University of Maine and Maine Community College systems and widespread tax reform.
Cutler said it shouldn’t be a surprise that much of his platform is similar in substance and style to his first campaign, when he placed second to Republican Gov. Paul LePage by just less than 2 percent of the votes cast.
“The reasons I did as well as I did in 2010 were that I had a more substantive campaign, with more substantive policy goals,” Cutler said in an interview Wednesday. “A lot in [this book] echoes what I campaigned on in 2010. That shouldn’t be surprising. I don’t think I was wrong on a lot of things in 2010, and I think these are still good ideas, and good foundations for a campaign for governor.”
Cutler also shook off accusations from some circles that his candidacy will act as a “spoiler” in the upcoming election. He said that in two of the past five gubernatorial elections, an Independent — now Sen. Angus King, in ‘94 and ‘98 — won the Blaine House.
“In 2010, I got twice the votes the Democrat [then Senate President Libby Mitchell] got, so suggesting that I’m splitting the vote, when most people in Maine want choices and want an independent voice, seems a little stale and way off base,” he said
Despite some similarities from 2010’s campaign in rhetoric and substance, Cutler’s book does cover some new ground. He proposes attracting young people to Maine — which he says is the hinge on which all future plans for the state will hang — by implementing a dollar-for-dollar income tax credit for student loan repayments.
He also says the state should consider the “pay-it-forward, pay-it-back” program adopted by Australia and Oregon, which sends students to college tuition-free on the agreement that each student will pay a set percentage of their income back to the state for a predetermined number of years.
Cutler also focuses on Maine’s agricultural industry — one industry where young people are flocking to the state — as a potential growth area and magnet for youthful entrepreneurs.
While most of the book focuses on statistics, policy goals and strategies, there are a fair number of criticisms and attacks on both Republicans and Democrats.
He calls the argument from some conservatives that lower taxes will necessarily result in lower health care and energy costs “political sophistry of the worst sort.” Cutler also blasts overreaching by Democrats — such as school consolidation, a policy agenda advanced by Democratic Gov. John Baldacci while his party held control of the State House, saying the program was an abject failure.
In an email, Brent Littlefield, chief political adviser to LePage, who will face off against Cutler and Democratic U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud in the 2014 election, painted the independent as a liberal, and said the governor’s record speaks for itself.
“Eliot Cutler’s liberal solutions including expanding welfare will not solve Maine’s problems,” Littlefield wrote. “Under Gov. Paul LePage the unemployment rate has dropped significantly and more than 10,000 Maine people have now found jobs.”
Follow Mario Moretto on Twitter at @riocarmine.