What ails Maine?
Specifically, what ails health care, energy, taxation and regulatory policy, education, innovation, connectivity, our quality of place and business climate?
Public officials and private citizens have certainly studied these topics enough times, over too many years, to be able to answer that very broad question. But, so far, the answer isn’t clear.
What Maine needs to do to excite business, ease access to health care, boost education achievement, reduce regulatory hurdles, reduce energy costs and increase communication networks is not just a series of nagging questions. It’s a drumbeat of survival.
Last week, the Maine State Chamber of Commerce together with the Maine Development Foundation released a compelling report that reflects the sum total of hundreds of previous state agency reports ever commissioned to study taxes, education, business, health care, transportation, communication, etc., etc., and etc.
The Chamber and MDF reviewed hundreds of reports and reduced them to their common denominators. Then, incorporating the responses of 1,000 businesses surveyed about living and working in Maine, they produced a 12-point analysis focused on what ails Maine and called it: Making Maine Work.
The partners don’t pretend to answer the questions they pose. They merely gathered years of data into a useful format that they hope will be food for thought, and then catalyst for action, for Maine’s next governor. (The report is available at mainechamber.org)
According to Dana Connors, president of the Maine State Chamber of Commerce, he and MDF CEO Laurie Lachance will present their findings to each of the five gubernatorial candidates in the next month, and ask them to consider the anthology as each looks to the Blaine House and the work that lies beyond Election Day.
For instance, Maine continues to have a greater per capita state and local tax burden than the U.S. average. That burden stifles Maine’s people, its businesses and its future.
Maine’s population is getting older, which the Making Maine Work report rightly concludes exerts greater pressure on Maine’s housing, labor force, health care systems, transportation and state budget. Our educated youth are leaving for more promising environments in other states, further stressing the population left behind.
What the Chamber and MDF have concluded by reading years of Maine-based research, is that in order to improve Maine’s business climate, we must address the challenges of health insurance costs, energy, taxes, regulations and transportation. In that order.
Maine is currently ranked eighth highest in the United States for its cost of doing business, according to the Making Maine Work report. You can hardly blame a business for looking elsewhere, where costs are less.
But it isn’t just raw costs that deter growth here.
When Kim Jeffery, president and CEO of Nestle Waters North America, was in Maine last week, he mentioned how time-consuming and exhausting it has been to combat 16 different legislative efforts over the past several years to limit business development or to implement new taxes on the
$4 billion company.
Considering the hundreds of Maine people employed by Nestle through its Poland Spring bottling operation, the money it pays in property, income and corporate taxes, never mind the gas taxes paid for fuel used to truck its product, and the very basic truth that every bottle of water the company sells around the world is a commodity that “markets” everything good in Maine, do we really want to chase the company off with regulatory whips and chains and shrug off that revenue?
Of course not.
The key, according to Connors and LaChance, is a commitment by policymakers to change the bureaucratic culture in Augusta in a way that gets regulators to “see their jobs as helping Maine people and Maine businesses succeed.” And, then, once the realization is struck, to pursue that course with conviction.
Whether Maine’s next governor is up for the task means a lot to Maine people. It means our very future.