Maine, Obama, and recession

Governor Baldacci’s efforts to streamline government at all levels will help the state grow economically as savings will be reinvested into innovative programs

By Ramona du Houx

February 11th, 2009 

Understanding the importance of state government is key to understanding the needs of a nation. After all, we reflect who we elect. Barack Obama’s experience as a state senator enables him to reflect on his position in that role. That experience prompted him to convene a meeting with the nation’s governors to discuss their needs. It was the first time in history a president-elect brought the governor’s together so soon.

His election marks many firsts and with it a change that brings back the hope of the American Dream.

The new president does not expect to accomplish everything on his own, sitting on a throne in DC. Unlike his predecessor, he expects citizens to continue to be engaged in their Democracy; he expects governors to work with him to move the country forward.

In Maine he won’t be disappointed. For eight years the state has put up with cutbacks from the federal government. For close to six years Governor Baldacci has been merging agencies and streamlining state government, serving two purposes: saving money to reinvest in innovative projects while improving services and making state government more efficient In those six years, department heads have made progress and plans for areas where each agency can improve, to help the state continue to move efficiently into the innovative, technology-based economy of the 21st century.

These plans — some worked out regionally — need funds.

While about 80 percent of the state budget goes towards health and human services and education, the federal budget currently has 54 percent going to the Department of Defense. Only 15% is allocated to health and human services, education and training. Though most of us are grateful for the tremendous service of our armed services, we also want to ensure their safety and well being — and ours — at home. Returning from a war zone to find underfunded services at home is not the welcome home they deserve. Serious action needs to be taken by the Obama administration to right this imbalance.

Governor John Baldacci put in an official request by letter to President Obama for $3.6 billion to help Maine over the next two years, based upon the criterion of what the Obama administration is focused on funding.

While there will be help coming from the federal government to states and there will be job creation, we as a state have to remember Washington, DC cannot fulfill our every need. We have state government for a reason; if the last eight years didn’t wake people up to that need, not much will.

Take a moment to think about how the improvements made over the past six years could have been better if we had had a partner in Washington, DC. DirigoChoice would have received needed funds to continue to grow; our train system could have stretched to Canada; our highways would be vastly improved; innovative research and development would have seen increased funding; our education systems would have been improved, and green technologies would now be the norm. Despite the wrong actions of President Bush, Maine still progressed in these areas.

Maine prides itself on being independent and innovative. We are leading with: green technologies, wood composites, healthcare initiatives, Pine Tree Zone tax incentives for businesses, state housing assistance, maintaining and expanding pubic lands, and education. People around the world have witnessed the change in Maine’s quality of life and this has become more of a major asset that we must continue to enhance.

These improvements to Maine were undertaken by citizens and elected officials working together; they were made by the people of Maine who care deeply for the health and well-being of everyone in Maine and our futures.

While Obama intends to stimulate the economy and jumpstart many projects across the nation, every state will need to continue to come up with solutions for internal problems unique to every state.

Maine, a state with just 1.3 million people, has administrations for local schools, municipalities, counties, and state government. Too many needed funds are going to people duplicating jobs. Understandably these well paid workers wish to hold on to their positions. But when the world is experiencing a recession, can a state the size of Maine continue to be so generous? When people who need services may be endangered by cutbacks, doesn’t it make more sense to cut back bureaucratic jobs?

Maine could save up to $180 million annually by consolidating administrative services in government, schools, making better use of jails, DHHS services, working to reduce the use of hospital emergency rooms, changing how venders receive contracts, and other targeted strategies, according to a new report from a global management consultant firm, McKinsey & Co.

The governor’s Council on Competitiveness asked the firm to identify efficiency opportunities. The council is chaired by Karen Mills of Brunswick, a venture capitalist and former McKinsey consultant who was nominated by President Barack Obama to head the U.S. Small Business Administration.

The firm compared Maine’s reimbursement rates to critical-access hospitals. At 117 percent, Maine stood out as higher than comparable states, all of which were at 101 percent. So the proposed supplemental budget cuts Maine’s rate to 101 percent.

The firm identified $10 million to $20 million in potential savings in the state’s corrections system. Governor Baldacci’s proposed budgets included consolidation methods for jails.

We must take care of cleaning our own house. We need to streamline our different levels of government, so Maine can become more competitive with other states and be able to make the necessary investments in our future. These consolidation measures will position the state better for growth.