By now, even the least politically inclined American is frustrated with elected officials at all levels of government. It seems that the federal government, which controls tax-and-spend decisions, has legislated central control at the expense of good reason. Big government has swallowed up tax revenue from the states and made numerous wasteful decisions regarding how to spend the public’s tax “donations.”

America has allowed its big government advocates to unreasonably influence how states, such as Maine, manage their respective “business.” Historically, the federal, state and local governments have not recognized that they should operate similar to a business.

Frankly, most state and local governments have not come to the realization that their responsibility to the residents is to create a businesslike environment to ensure economic development to provide jobs for their residents and tax revenue to service the needs of each community.

I define economic development as the outcome derived from a strategic planning process designed to create significant improvement in the economic reality for individuals and for business entities. The business entities could be private sector businesses or government entities (local, county, state or federal).

Strategic planning in the public and not-for-profit sectors is different than strategic planning in private sector firms.

The key difference between the two is that the public and not-for-profit sectors do not have the universal measuring tool of bottom-line profits that applies to private sector planning. Instead, planners in these two public sectors must measure their ultimate success in terms funds used and programmatic performance goals. That difference raises debates about what the goals should be, and what should be the intended direction of change.

Those debates do not typically occur in private sector strategic planning, where profit is the primary goal — and more profit is better than less.

Public sector strategic planners typically find themselves caught in the middle, between those who want higher program service levels and those who want less expensive or less intrusive programs. A well-constructed strategic planning process should lead decision-makers to resolve these types of conflicts.

I believe major changes must take place at the state and federal level before the American taxpayers can observe the necessary taxation and spending priorities to turn the tide from inefficiency and confusion to a proper leadership model.

Today, each state sends tax revenue from its taxpayers to the federal government. Then, there is the expectation that the federal government will filter down funding for various state-managed public service functions.

The financial model is one of a large central government controlling the filter based on their questionable wisdom. The U.S. Constitution expected the states to manage their respective governments in concert with other states, with defined and limited federal responsibilities.

When will the elected officials at the state level understand that many of the problems in the federal government are propagated by the absence of term limits? The lobbyists and their influence on long-term legislators is devastating to the workings of good government. Allowing unrelated amendments to legislative bills creates waste and major delays for agreements on rationale bills. Clearly, the federal government does not operate in a businesslike manner.

The states appear to have given up their authority during the last several decades and allowed the federal government to take on many of the difficult tasks, such as education, health and human services, health care, energy, immigration, drugs and alcohol, public works, etc.

When will the states take more responsibility from the federal government and demonstrate the capability to perform difficult tasks? Taking more responsibility must be accompanied by the retention of a larger portion of the taxes currently forwarded to the federal level.

Within the private sector, many businesses create temporary central organizations to act upon inefficient and costly organizations and processes. The difference is that the private sector companies monitor the changes and often decentralize organizations and processes once the concerns are resolved. The need always exists to provide continuous improvement. Numerous examples of this improvement process exist in the private sector, but it is rarely observed in the public sector.

America needs state governments, which demonstrate the principles of good business and a determination to work in concert with other states, to articulate the need to build on the constitutional definition of states’ rights.

Why must a high percentage of the taxes paid locally be sent to the federal government? What can state governments do to control their respective destinies? Are the voters committed to electing a governor and legislators who would carry the torch for state rights and efficient and effective government? Effective government includes the dire need for economic development (jobs for those who want to work, encouragement to expect residents to want to work, and tax revenue for use within the state for efficient services).

The public could begin by expecting elected officials to demonstrate a working knowledge of how to run a public service business. If they do not, they should not be elected.

Len Greaney of Rumford Center is a member of Rumford Renewal and a former Rumford town manager.

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