Editorial by Ramona du Houx

September 27, 2013

bc0d855f956b3ea0-cap2The Maine State Capitol, photo by Ramona du Houx

While Governor LePage’s veto power controlled Republican votes in Augusta communities across the state continued to move forward with innovative plans.

Being innovative requires thinking outside the box to come up with creative solutions and ideas. It’s all about doing things better and creating things of value. It relies upon resourcefulness, integrity, ingenuity and persistence— intrinsically strong Maine traits. The Portland Public Market House is a great example of innovation in progress as the community-gathering place has been incubating new small businesses while expanding Maine’s quality of life. And Waterville’s innovative film festival, (MIFF) brings thousands of people together giving businesses a boost.

Innovation drives 80 percent of economic growth according to Nobel-Prize winning economist Robert Solow.

One research based sector of Maine’s innovative economy that is expanding is in clean energy technology, which is based on our natural resources— our oceans, our forests and our agricultural heritage. From 2003 to 2010 Maine’s clean energy sector grew 30 percent, aided by policies, grants and research and development (R&D) bonds.

There are great opportunities in clean energy innovation and recently President Barack Obama announced his plans to help this sector grow. Maine researchers and business have been developing cutting-edge clean energy technologies that use our natural resources in innovative ways. And Maine has become an international leader in tidal and offshore wind power as well as in bio-based materials.

In 2009 Mobilize Maine was launched to decentralize economic development by promoting and pursuing efforts in the state’s new federally designated economic development districts, making Augusta more of a support system. For the first time the state’s economic strategy empowered local regions to help develop innovative community-led goals and strategies that would focus on their area’s strengths, and launched mobilizemaine.org.

Around the same time U. S. Congressman Mike Michaud created and passed legislation for the Northern Boarder Regional Commission, which provides grants for economic development for areas in ME, NH, NY and VT. Now the Bangor region is leading the way taking advantage of Mobilize Maine and what the commission can offer.

Grants and bonds help stimulate growth—

Maine usually pays its bonds back within four years and a bond package would help stimulate a sagging economy. According to a recent report Maine is the only New England state that has not grown its economy out of the recession.

When LePage first came to office, he refused to undertake any new bond proposals and would not release voter-approved bonds. Then, he held voter-approved bonds hostage to get his way to pay a hospital debt – even though the hospitals were already being reimbursed – to the tune of $3.7 billion -with a previously negotiated payment plan.

This August LePage and lawmakers agreed to a bond package. But the governor would not look at any bond deal that invested over $150 million even though interest rates have never been lower. The most negligent part of this deal emerged when it was disclosed that LePage refused to invest in any R&D bonds. Economic studies show that for every $1 of R&D funding the state gets $12 back in investment and economic activity.

Political analysts have said that Maine’s economy is lagging behind all the other New England states, in part, because there have not been investments from the state into the economy – through bonds since the Baldacci administration.

Community based innovative projects that help the creative economy in our towns also need support. Like the Portland Public Market, which provides businesses with a location to test their products or MIFF, which showcases the state.

LePage’s insistence of cutting back needed programs, giving a tax break to Maine’s wealthiest 1 percent, and not investing in the middleclass has also taken a toll economically. LePage’s cost shifting policies have led to higher property taxes and along with his insulting rhetoric the state’s reputation has been damaged.

In democratic societies governments are here to assist and govern their people. They can and have invested in projects with R&D bonds throughout America’s history. Without R&D investments we wouldn’t have the Internet, or user-friendly computers. The UMaine offshore wind project got off the ground with a bond approved by Maine voters and this long-term innovative venture could generate thousands of jobs. Despite this LePage held up a voter approved bond for further UMaine turbine development.

While basic infrastructure bonds are long over due and voters will choose if we need them, R&D bonds are still sorely needed for real long-term economic growth. Maine needs this kind of stimulus to help our innovative economy expand and prosper while creating high paying jobs.