Good government is responsible to Maine people

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Mainers are just plain tired of paying taxes – for good reason – and are demanding that public and elected officials clip the cost of government to the quick. We advocate lean government as much as anyone, but blindly keeping costs down to the exclusion of all else is not always the best thing for Maine and Maine people. Preservation of our principles is worth paying for.

We spend more to administer our child support enforcement, food stamps and welfare programs than most other states in this country. Not a lot more, but more. We do that because we are paying Maine people to administer these programs, including taking calls from people receiving social services, instead of outsourcing these tasks to India and Mexico.

We’re the only New England state that keeps these jobs in-state and, while we know it costs more, the benefit for Maine is gainfully employed workers who turn around and pour their incomes into our economy.

Alaska and Idaho, which outsource their food stamp programs, calculate an 18 percent savings. New York calculates a .3 percent savings for the same work. We could do that in Maine, but we would do that knowing we would also be rejecting the income tax revenue that comes with these much-needed in-state jobs. That difference in savings over revenue is not worth the cost of jobs and the local touch in providing social services.

The recently signed anti-sweatshop code of conduct is another example of government spending money well. This law, which mimics policies at the University of Maine at Farmington and the city of Bangor, requires bidders for government contracts for the sale of apparel, footwear or textiles to sign a code of conduct affirming that they do not do business with sweatshops. Maine, which could certainly save the public’s money through supremely low bids submitted by sweatshop-based manufacturers, has taken a stand in favor of human decency.

The law goes far to guarantee that bidders comply with the code. It sets up a process to receive and investigate complaints for violations. If a complaint is found valid and the state is unable to convince the vendor to adjust its conduct, the state reserves the right to terminate the contract and bar that vendor from submitting any future bid for government business.

The details about how all this is going to work are not yet ironed out, but a working group – evenly split between labor activists and business representatives – will convene to establish a reasonable process for ensuring good conduct. For a state that prides itself on a neighbor-helping-neighbor ethic, the minor cost of ensuring that the goods we buy do not originate in an oppressive sweatshop must be called good government.

There is certainly pork in state government, despite officials’ passionate denials to the contrary, but we think these two programs and their associated costs are responsible to Maine’s proud culture and values.

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