Editorial by Ramona du Houx

December 12, 2011

abf0ec422332f1b6-cap2Maine’s state capitol at night. photo by Ramona du Houx

A recent study from Chase Bank shows that during the deepest part of the near depression, Maine’s economic recession and unemployment rates were both far less severe compared to the rest of the country as a whole. This is due in large part because the foundation for Maine’s economy to progress out of the recession was firmly established with the Baldacci administration.

But the Chase Bank study shows that after LePage’s first session with the Legislature, Maine began to lag behind in the economic recovery. Perhaps this has something to do with the fact that the state had no bond issues on the ballot this past November, which would have immediately provided thousands of jobs for people in construction, research and development, public safety, and education.

Gov. LePage and other conservatives flatly refused to discuss a bond package in 2010. According to the most recent Maine Department of Labor data, Maine has lost more than 4,800 jobs since January. And LePage’s proposed cuts would diminish the workforce further.

“The proposed state cuts to Medicaid in fiscal year 2012 will result in the loss of more than 4,400 jobs across all counties statewide,” said MECEP Executive Director Garrett Martin.

During the short time LePage has been in office, more jobs have been lost in Maine than created. But jobs have been created — in sectors where the economy is still growing and will continue to do so. These are the areas focused on by the Baldacci administration, working with the Legislature, for the state’s present and future economy. For example:

• Maine’s green economy: According to a Brookings Report, from 2003 to 2010, Maine added 2,914 “clean jobs,” growing by 4 percent annually. Between 2008 and 2009, the state rate overtook the national growth rate of 3.4 percent. The state set clean-energy goals, which has given companies confidence to invest in Maine. Renewable energy is projected to become a huge growth area for the U.S. economy, and Maine has been fostering wind, solar, natural gas, biofuels, and wood energy alternatives. Working with UMaine’s offshore wind development team, Maine could be exporting electrical energy captured on floating wind farms. This alone could create thousands of jobs and stimulate the economy, at the same time reducing people’s oil consumption, if they turn to electrical energy to heat. Businesses focused on weatherization and retro fitting buildings to use less oil are also becoming a mainstay business in Maine with the help of the Energy Efficiency Trust.

• Maine has some world-renowned scientific labs, like Bigelow and Jackson Laboratory. Some of their projects, along with other high-tech innovative companies, have been supported by new Maine Technology Institute grants introduced by Karen Mills.

• Maine has strong programs to support and nurture entrepreneurship, and because of this reality Blackstone just gave the state $3 million to expand these programs.

• Maine received federal funding for the Three Ring Binder, because of its leadership in broadband Internet access deployment to rural areas. The ConnectME program got all of this rolling. Broadband allows entrepreneurs to set up anywhere in the world, and more are choosing Maine for it’s quality of life.

• Maine’s quality of life was promoted and protected with bonds like the Land for Maine’s Future program managed by the State Planning Office. Another little-known SPO program, which started with a committee established by Gov. Baldacci, will interlink bike and walkable trails across the state, so people can travel the entire state on the “interstate bike highway.” Working with the Department of Transportation and various nonprofits, the SPO progressed this quality of life initiative and others that surely will bring environmental enthusiasts and people wanting a healthy lifestyle to the state. The SPO is now being dismantled, because of LePage.

• In eight years, the Pine Tree Tax Zone initiative brought business or expanded business in the sate — over 310 of them, creating thousands of jobs.

• Maine has a great community college system with low tuition. There has been a 76 percent increase in enrollment over the last eight years.

The thing is, none of these areas that have proven to grow the economy is the domain of a political party. The reason Gov. Baldacci got them established was because of his unwavering belief that we all can work together to progress the state of Maine for all its citizens. That’s how he made these initiatives happen. The majority of Democrats want to grow jobs using these successful initiatives, which businesses and nonprofits back. They want a comprehensive bond package. We need to return to a climate of collaboration and cooperation in Augusta, so jobs can be created.