Consolidation: Its time has come

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"The important thing is, it’s not so much consolidation, as much as it is changing the way we are doing things," said the governor. "We must change just as the world is changing around us. We spend too much on administration, too many levels of government, too much overhead, and more and more of our resources are drained away from where they need to do the most good. We have to eliminate government bureaucracies and we have to reduce the costs so we can plow all of those resources into kids — into our future, and into their future opportunities. The better we do, the better we all do. That’s how Maine works, and how Maine will work better in the 21st century."

By Ramona du Houx

Changing how business is run, analyzing and restructuring is hard for most entrepreneurs. In the end the need to be successful makes change happen. If not, stagnation occurs. In order for Maine to be successful in a global economy, there are changes that have to happen now.

When the Brookings Institute issued its comprehensive report on Maine, just over a year ago, more people began to realize that merging state agencies and streamlining state and local government has real benefits to the economy. The governor has been working towards these goals for years. State government has been streamlined with information technologies (IT) and mergers, but few know of the details because they weren’t sensational news headlines.

With Brookings, a major report now exists for the public to analyze. Other reports soon followed and the Legislature took serious note, setting up a special prosperity commission. The governor took further measures and set up commissions. A major bond package which invests in Maine and its future in the global economy passed. Now it’s up to voters to ensure that these bonds go forward this coming November.

But it was really only one measure that the press focused on. Some media organizations were quick to sensationalize school consolidation, because of its controversial aspect. Plans are moving forward with the initiative, as schools want to move forward and see the benefits for their students. According to the Department of Education, the majority of schools, more than 80 percent, now view consolidation of the administration units as an opportunity to make the educational system better for everyone.

The governor is taking further bold actions. He introduced a plan to consolidate Maine’s prison system into one unified entity. He will freeze property tax assessments due to jail costs at current rates, so that property taxes cannot increase because of communities having to pay for local prisons. Maine’s correctional system is complicated and needs an overhaul to be simplified, streamlined, and unified for the health and wellbeing of all Maine citizens.

Mainers move with the seasons, taking things in their stride. The majority work extremely hard and enjoy the free time they get with family and friends. On average, incomes are below the national average. Consolidation plans could help incomes rise.

School consolidation of administrative units saves money — the people’s tax money.

In many areas across the state LD1 reduced property taxes because local municipalities and their school districts responsibly enacted the essential programs for schools. Those school administrative units that didn’t are now mandated to do so under the school administration consolidation program.

People in Maine understand that improving their income situation takes time, hard work, and a focused effort. It doesn’t happen overnight. It takes changing Maine’s business climate, educational opportunities, how the state does business, and attitudes. Creating Pine Tree Zones, eliminating the tax on equipment, establishing incentives for companies to set up internet connections with the ConnectME program, and investing in research and development, all have helped businesses grow. Creating the Community College System has opened the doors of opportunity to thousands. These solid successes are helping to transition Maine into the 21st-century economy.

When the governor took office, he inherited a $1.2 billion deficit — which the Baldacci administration eliminated. In personal finances, most people want to clear their debts to move forward. That is what is happening at the state level. All the while, initiatives have been put into places that are reducing state government costs, while investing in the state’s future.

"During my time in office, we have streamlined state government, halted runaway growth in health and human services spending, revitalized the structure of public school administration, and committed 800 million new dollars into K-12 education. And we did it all without raising broad-based taxes," said Baldacci. "We will continue this work by looking at government spending at all levels."

The governor’s business approach of putting one’s house in order is serving the state well by saving money. Those funds have been channeled into other areas of need, areas where the federal government has cut funds destined for the most vulnerable Maine citizens and areas where the state lagged behind in the global economy.

Currently measures to combine the state’s natural resource agencies, transportation departments, and a unified health-purchasing system are being explored for future savings and efficiencies.

The time for consolidation has come, because it is part of the measures the state needs to take to continue to move forward in the global economy.

"The important thing is, it’s not so much consolidation, as much as it is changing the way we are doing things," said the governor. "We must change just as the world is changing around us. We spend too much on administration, too many levels of government, too much overhead, and more and more of our resources are drained away from where they need to do the most good. We have to eliminate government bureaucracies and we have to reduce the costs so we can plow all of those resources into kids — into our future, and into their future opportunities. The better we do, the better we all do. That’s how Maine works, and how Maine will work better in the 21st century."