Michaud says Maine’s paper mills can find ways to survive

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BANGOR — Maine is lagging behind the rest of New England in terms of wages and job growth and needs a change in leadership to buck the trend, U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud said Tuesday morning.

“Mainers are working harder than ever but aren’t getting ahead,” Michaud said.

He spoke to a small gathering of Bangor-area business and government leaders during a Tuesday breakfast sponsored by the Bangor Region Chamber of Commerce. The Democratic congressman was the third and final Maine gubernatorial candidate to speak at a chamber breakfast.

Michaud, a former mill employee, opened by sharing his vision of Maine’s future economy. The paper and pulp mills, which have shuttered or turned off machines across the state, can still find ways to survive, he argued. Municipalities including Bucksport and East Millinocket need to sit down with industry leaders, foresters and other stakeholders to decide on a long-term vision for the paper and forest products industries, Michaud said.

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The state’s economy is changing, Michaud said, “but we still can’t forget what made the state of Maine great and how important that industry is here in the state.”

If elected, Michaud said he would place a two-year moratorium on cutting the Business Equipment Tax Exemption (BETE) and Business Equipment Tax Reimbursement (BETR) programs, which were designed to spur capital investments in the state.

He also said one of his first actions, if elected, would be to propose legislation to accept federal dollars to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, legislation that Gov. Paul LePage has vetoed five times.

Michaud said he believed Maine could become the “food basket” for New England by promoting growth in agriculture, small farms and fishing. The state also should focus on developing and promoting alternative energy, wind, solar and tidal, to lead a fight against climate change. He also said he supports the construction of a natural gas pipeline into Maine to help drive down costs.

During the event, Michaud frequently criticized his Republican opponent for failing to improve the state’s business climate — with Business Insider ranking Maine 47th among all states in terms of economic growth and Forbes ranking it the worst state in which to do business. Republicans have countered that LePage has ushered new jobs into the state and helped drop the unemployment rate to its lowest point since 2008.

Michaud talked about the importance of reducing energy costs to drive business, a cause LePage has trumpeted over the years, but failed to accomplish, he argued. He also said he believed the governor’s “unpredictable behavior” was likely to drive away business investments in the state.

At one point, in discussing how he planned to restore municipal revenue sharing funding and help the state reach its 55 percent share for local education mandated by voters, Michaud said it would “take some time” to review the budget and come up with a solid plan of how to do so.

“I do not know what damage this governor has left for the state of Maine,” Michaud said.

Questioned by an audience member as to why Michaud focused so much on criticizing the governor’s decisions and policies, while never touching on independent candidate Eliot Cutler, Michaud responded, “This is a two-person race and has been a two-person race all along.”

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