Recent polling data from Pan Atlantic SMS Group indicates that 47 percent of Republicans and 62 percent of Democrats are undecided about who they favor for governor.

No matter who wins, this election will set in motion public policies that will move Maine in a distinct direction for as much as the next decade.

A new governor, new leaders of the Legislature and, in many cases, new leadership on town councils and school boards will all undertake work that, hopefully, will respond constructively to the times in which we live.

If you are among those undecided voters, there are some fundamental characteristics that would make a difference in dealing with the state’s economy.

The first is integrity, the foundation of trust. Have the candidates done what they said they would do? Do they behave and speak in private the same as they do in public? Employers who invest money and create jobs crave predictability.

The second is vision. Where are we going and what will it look like when we get there? Having candidates who can cite not simply their vision but also their record of accomplishing a vision would bolster confidence in voters.

The third characteristic is experience. It would be helpful to know if candidates have ever dealt with fixing something large, complex and, essentially, broken.

Even though state government continues to deliver services, it is not necessarily designed in a way that you would organize an enterprise if you were starting with a clean piece of paper.

Hands-on experience in building or restructuring a large organization seems a necessity if we expect to see measurable results in the next two to four years

Having a record of attracting, retaining and leading talented people, whether as legislative staff or in executive positions, also will speed the state’s recovery and ultimately its economic health.

To change a system, you need to change the people. Swapping out one set of insiders for another isn’t going to work — you need new blood.

The challenges and opportunities facing the next governor and the 125th Maine Legislature are enormous.

Some are projecting at least a billion-dollar shortfall in the state budget. With an end of federal stimulus money, our elected leaders will be making tough and not particularly popular decisions.

The outcome of the people’s veto on tax reform may give the next Legislature and governor some indication regarding voters’ appetite for change.

If the repeal of tax reform succeeds, the first order of business may be to start again. If the reform is sustained, will it be enough to smooth the wide swings in tax revenue and allow the Legislature to focus on a long-term plan for Maine?

There will be pressure to address union relations. Previous administrations have agreed to contracts and benefits that are unsustainable and, unfortunately, out of sync with citizens’ ability or willingness to pay.

In the next two years, legislators and the governor will have to confront compensation issues while maintaining morale and inspiring performance among state employees and those who work in higher education.

At the local level, teacher and municipal employee contracts can no longer be negotiated as business as usual.

Performance and outcomes at every level of government need to be measured and compensated accordingly.

Benefits need to reflect what’s happening in the private sector.

Another challenge is addressing Maine’s higher-education investment.

The key to keeping and attracting jobs is directly tied to having a skilled work force.

It is the top of the list of needs when employers are polled, yet higher education in Maine has been cut along with all other state services.

The next governor and Legislature need to prioritize where cuts will be made and where investment makes the most sense.

Maine’s demographics are, perhaps, the greatest challenge. Maine has the second-oldest average age in the nation. Though we have legions of skilled older workers, Maine needs to attract their replacements along with entrepreneurs who will create new jobs with higher wages.

A business-friendly attitude will go a long way in encouraging private investment and job creation.

If you are an undecided voter, these are matters on which you may wish to judge your local and state candidates.

If you are not enrolled in either party, you may do so on Tuesday and help determine who you think is best prepared to serve us in Augusta.

Not voting just doesn’t seem to be a good choice when there is so much at stake.

Besides, why let someone else make these decisions for you? What do you think and what are you going to do about it?

 

Tony Payne is executive director of the Alliance for Maine’s Future, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that focuses on the effects of public policy on the state’s economy. He can be contacted at:

[email protected]