The BDN Opinion section operates independently and does not set newsroom policies or contribute to reporting or editing articles elsewhere in the newspaper or on bangordailynews.com.
Gov. Janet Mills got the process and policy right on the plans she released this week to spend the federal dollars coming from Maine through the American Rescue Plan.
It’s an ambitious agenda that closely tracks with the work and recommendations of the Economic Recovery Committee, which was formed early during the COVID-19 pandemic to identify a path toward long-term economic recovery.
Standing with representatives of the business community and organized labor, the governor outlined her recommendations for about $1.1 billion of discretionary funds that the state can use for investments.
The governor breaks her proposals down into three broad categories: immediate economic recovery from the pandemic; long-term economic growth for Maine; and infrastructure revitalization.
While the language of the plan is typical of policymakers — heavy on words like workforce, research and development, and infrastructure — the heart of the proposal is much simpler and easier to understand.
The governor’s plan would invest $537 million in infrastructure, like expanded access to broadband. But we aren’t stringing wires and running cables for the sake of putting people up on ladders or in bucket trucks. We’re making those investments so more Maine people can be connected to the world. So they can live more freely and have access to advantages that connectivity provides.
We invest in state parks not because boat ramps are sexy, but because they help Maine people enjoy the legacy of our public lands and improve access to the outdoors, which we know is important for good health.
Every aspect of the plan, at its core, is about helping to fashion a better life for Mainers.
The plan invests in making it easier for people to see a doctor when they’re sick or to have high-quality child care for their children, so they can be safe and happy and build their lives upon a solid foundation.
It invests in making sure that people have clean water to drink and to protect our rivers, streams and bays from pollution because both are fundamental to our health and our happiness.
For the whole of this pandemic, one of the greatest hardships — for those able to work from home and those who through necessity have had to continue to work as normal under tremendous pressure — is the feeling of being alone and of isolation.
President Joe Biden and Democrats in Washington, Mills and some members of the Legislature recognized that problem too, and have realized that there is a larger role for government to play in taking care of people.
We aren’t alone. We are in this together, and these investments are a direct reflection of that idea. Some problems are so big they demand collective, common action.
As the governor’s ideas are considered by the Legislature, I anticipate that new ideas will be introduced and some funding priorities might shift around the edges, while adhering to the plan’s general outline.
That’s a healthy process that the governor welcomed during her announcement on Tuesday, when she alluded to a “robust, bipartisan discussion with the Legislature about the transformational opportunity.”
In every idea that’s considered, policy makers need to center people — and specifically people who have struggled the most during the pandemic, folks left behind by the modern economy, Mainer impacted by inequality and systemic racism.
Every action should be judged on a simple metric: Are we making life better for Maine people, easing their burden, making the world kinder and more fair, are we giving people the opportunity to live happier, more secure lives?
The roads, bridges, wires and other programmatic ideas are the tools to achieve those goals, the mechanism by which we make Maine stronger and ensure prosperity grows and is spread more evenly.
The results are best measured not in miles or in dollars, but in the lives of Mainers that, through collective action, have been made better.