Welcome to Portland, President Obama, a city you carried by a 4-1 margin in 2008, and a place you can expect to get a warm reception, albeit with a few dissenting voices mixed in.
A majority of Maine people were inspired by your historic candidacy and your promise that you would be better able than your opponent to make government work to improve people’s lives in a time of great turmoil.
So far, you’ve delivered on your promise to reform health care, but the economic uncertainty that led to your election has grown worse since 2008. Mainers demand the same focus of energy that has been devoted to the health care debate turned toward building an economy that creates jobs in the long run and shows results soon.
As you know, someone who gets laid off loses more than a job. The recently signed health care reform law notwithstanding, they also are likely to lose their health insurance, maybe their home and, in many cases, an important part of their identity. Maine’s unemployment rate is stuck at 8.3 percent, a little better than the national average but still much too high.
The number of unemployed Mainers at the start of the year was 58,300, and that does not even count the people who have given up looking for a job or those who are taking part-time work when a full-time paycheck is what they need.
As a result, we are facing thousands of home foreclosures in the months ahead, which not only affects the families directly involved, but causes property values in whole neighborhoods to shrink, potentially forcing other mortgage holders underwater.
Maine is not unusual. We are suffering from a national recession that has hit harder in many places than it has here. Like many of these places, Maine was not a beneficiary of the cheap-credit boom that drove outrageous speculation in unsound investments. But we are definitely full partners in the bust.
As a result of federal policies and economic trends, we have an economy in transition. Our pulp and paper industry is as productive as ever, but provides a fraction of the jobs it once did. Other traditional industries, like fishing and manufacturing, are disappearing while tourism and hospitality are growing.
According to the Department of Labor, our biggest major industry sector is health care and human assistance, which relies heavily on government financing. With tax revenue collections depressed by the recession, those sectors are getting the biggest cuts.
A state budget just passed with bipartisan support cuts more than $300 million out of a $5.7 billion budget one year after cutting $500 million.
Other cuts are hitting the areas that offer the best chance for long-term economic growth. The state university system is streamlining its offerings by eliminating programs that have low student appeal, even though those advanced classes may be the ones that produce the next big thing.
The city you are visiting today is planning to cut 44 teachers and eliminate other school positions to present a budget that reflects a $4.4 million loss in state and federal aid. A city budget is also in the works that will likely cut police, fire and public works employees, who are essential to maintaining a quality of life that attracts private investment. Virtually every other community in the state is facing similar choices.
STIMULUS RUNNING OUT
While Maine has benefited from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act stimulus funds, in many cases they will run out next year and that budget crisis could be as bad as this year’s if the private sector does not pick up.
Mr. President, we can’t take another year like the last two. A recovery that does not grow jobs in Maine will not be a recovery.
We hope you will take the passion and leadership you have shown in the last phase of the health care fight and channel it into turning this economy around in a way that will create jobs, so people can buy houses, pay taxes and live with dignity.
This was part of the promise that won you the White House and the support of people in places like Portland.