Facing the facts is how Maine can begin to move toward a better economy.

Last week, Susan Feiner presented her opinions here about the Maine Economic Research Institute and its recent Roll Call 2006 publication that rated Maine state legislators on their economic performance. She got basic facts wrong in her appraisal. The errors were particularly surprising in that Ms. Feiner is listed as a professor of economics at the University of Southern Maine.

Here are the facts:

MERI is an independent, private, nonpartisan, not-for-profit corporation governed by a board of directors who are business owners, CEOs, and senior staff representing a diverse group of Maine companies. Incorporated in 1999, MERI is dedicated to improving Maine’s business environment by providing objective information to enhance economic policymaking. Committed to a healthy economy and quality jobs, MERI conducts nonpartisan research and tracks legislator performance on critical business issues.

Ms. Feiner claimed that MERI’s focus on Maine businesses somehow misses the point on our economy. She asks, “Since when have consumers, workers and the public sector ceased to matter to the economic health of our state?”

MERI’s reasoning is simple and should be clear to almost anyone: without employers there are no jobs. If employers aren’t able to create and sustain profitable businesses, all other economic questions – such as how to distribute tax revenues – are inconsequential. There are no consumers, workers or public sector without viable employers. This system of economics based on entrepreneurs and private business has served our country well.

Ms. Feiner also mistakenly claims that “the only legislators who receive passing grades in MERI’s legislative report card are Republicans.”

In fact, MERI has reported on the 119th through 122nd Maine State Legislatures, and review of the data will quickly show Democrats who also do well. There is nothing intrinsic about party affiliation that affects legislators’ scores. MERI applies its methodology equally and fairly to all state legislators. Simple research would have discovered this fact.

Other interesting facts relating to Ms. Feiner’s claims that MERI somehow favors Republicans: by chance, MERI’s board chair and vice chair are Democrats; I am a former lifelong Democrat (to keep away from even the perception of politics, I became an unenrolled, independent voter when asked to help start up MERI); the other staff member at MERI happens to also be a lifelong Democrat. While the board officers are currently Democrats, MERI’s board officers could just as easily have been a different mix of party affiliations since the board is politically diverse. At MERI, party affiliation doesn’t matter; MERI is about a strong economy and economic opportunity for every Maine citizen – period.

The motivation behind MERI’s Roll Call 2006 report was simple – Maine’s economy could and should be a lot better and MERI is working to change this sad fact by bringing accountability to economic policymaking in Augusta.

It is surprising to me that someone who should have a strong background in research did so little for her critique. At MERI, we don’t care much for partisan politics nor do we care much for political misinformation. Facts tend to speak for themselves. Facing the facts is how we begin to move toward a better economy.

Edward McLaughlin is president of Maine Economic Research Institute.

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