Editorial by Ramona du Houx

April 23, 2014

Other New England states have recovered almost all the job losses due to the Great Recession. Maine stands alone as the only east coast state that has built back less than half the jobs caused by the economic crash. Not the kind of reputation Maine needs, and most of blame falls at the feet of Governor Paul LePage with his dangerous policies and way of governance.

He hurts the state’s reputation by putting down the people of Maine and discourages businesses owners who may be looking to Maine to locate in. He has publicly badmouthed the President, Maine lawmakers, women, students and children. A governor should be promoting the great qualities the people Maine have— their tireless work ethic, hospitality, ability to be easily trained and their community mindfulness. Not to mention the amazing natural attributes the state has from mountains, rivers, lakes, forests and a 2,000-mile long coast.

Last year the Legislature approved bonds for infrastructure improvements and the people of Maine voted for them. This year LePage used these bonds as a bargaining tool (again) by refusing to release them until he got what he demanded. Meanwhile thousands of construction workers were delayed from working. They had to wait until LePage was done using them as pawns.

This session a $50 million bond proposal passed the Legislature, of that $40 million are for an innovation/small business bond proposal was approved by the Legislature. The biggest portion would recapitalize financing programs that help promising small business access loan capital. Another part of the bond would improve science laboratories to boost the state’s marine economy, to develop a world-class biometric research facility for advanced cancer treatments and related research, to increase biotech workforce training, and to advance cutting edge tissue regeneration research to improve human health.

But to date LePage has refused to approve any bonds for innovation so other areas of growth that have received bond funds in the past weren’t even broached this session.

Why are innovation bonds important?

First they are funds that help start up companies improve their products by making use of the University of Maine facilities and scientists. Many of these scientists are undergraduates and graduates working alongside professors developing new products. Ocean Renewable Power Company, ORPC, received a grant from bond funds, to fine tune their tidal energy machine which is now generating electricity in Machias. It is the only tidal energy generator in the Americas.

The Advance Composite Center at the University of Maine worked on the ORPC project. They also developed the bridge–in-a-backpack, a light weight way to build bridges that are stronger than conventional structures. As well as ballistic building materials that are under contract with the Department of Defense, and the first ever floating wind turbine in the Americas. All these products received innovation bond funding started under the Baldacci administration.

These are projects that represent Maine’s new potential manufacturing base that will need a young educated workforce.

A report from the Maine Center for Economic Policy ranked Maine next-to-last in total job growth since 2011 and revealed that the employment rate for 25- to 54-year-olds has not increased at all since the recession ended.

Median income has fallen by $1,500, manufacturing continues to decline for the third consecutive year, and a quarter of all Maine children now live in poverty.

Meanwhile programs that help people in need have been slashed by the LePage administration, property taxes have gone up because of LePage’s cost shifting measures, and the governor has denied 70,000 people access to affordable health care coverage by not accepting federal funding, And Maine’s debt to the state’s hospitals will start to increase again because they rely on the state’s reimbursement of Medicaid funds.

The Speaker of the House Mark Eves pushed through another bill to retrieve federal funding for healthcare. The question is: will LePage veto it?

Maine voters consistently voted overwhelmingly for innovation bonds. Governor LePage should give the people of Maine the opportunity to point the way forward for economic growth. He’s denied them the healthcare they deserve and stopped opportunities for our children with his veto power.

The question is: will he continue to hold Maine back and veto this innovation bond package?