ANDOVER — Maine’s state Legislature passed a “tax reform initiative” that was soundly defeated at the polls on June 8.

Less than a month later, Maine’s finance commissioner, Ryan Low, reported the state would actually have a budget surplus of $50 million. According to a Bangor Daily News report, Low “is particularly pleased that sales tax revenue in May was again above estimates.”

According to the report, our state took in $5.5 million more than expected, bringing the sales tax to $11.8 million above projections for the year. Until April, the sales tax had not met projections for 18 months.

Now is the time to learn from our past. There is a fundamental solution to address the unsustainable state budget process that Democrats and Republicans have been relying on in Maine. Mismanagement of our state finances must be addressed immediately.

Maine will not attract new business, create jobs and break out of the “same old, same old” if we do not have the courage to act on bold initiatives. There is a sensible plan that will move Maine in the right direction.

The idea behind this sensible policy has already been used, but in a very destructive way. In the current budget cycle, Maine’s major political party members are using furlough days, which wreck family budgets and lower employee morale, as a way to “solve” the budget problem.

It is time we use this sensible plan in a constructive way that benefits not only private-sector Maine taxpayers, but also works to help those Maine taxpayers who unfairly bear the brunt of political party incompetence: Maine state employees.

The voluntary 32-hour workweek is a sustainable, forward-thinking solution. State furlough days prove this model works.

We need to make this model a best choice for reducing Maine’s tax burden, not a panic button. Maine workers, Maine private citizens and businesses, all of us, deserve a lasting solution.

We can do better. Our next governor needs to move away from the unsustainable practice of radical and abusive piecemeal budget cuts.

Throughout my gubernatorial campaign, I have listened to thousands of Maine voters, many of them state employees.

When asked, more state employees answered “yes” than “no” to this question: “Would you volunteer for a 32-hour work week if your benefits, jobs and technical expertise were acknowledged and respected in the process?”

Those who answered “yes” for an extra day off per week cited an elderly parent who needed care, more family time, or a better work-life balance as the reasons they would sign up.

Maine is currently proving 32-hour weeks are workable; what Maine is not doing is taking the idea to the next level.

Initially, using an hourly income average, converting 3,000 state employees to 32 hours a week saves $29.9 million a year in payroll savings alone.

That number does not take into account facility savings, carbon footprint issues, heating and cooling costs for state offices, etc.

This may seem like a bold step, but it is not that bold in today’s modern work world.

Today, companies such as Google, Texas Instruments and others lead the world through improved work schedules and productivity processes.

American productivity is not maximized at 40 hours a week. Performance is improved when employees have a secure, predictable work environment. Employees in today’s often-stressful world perform best when there are clear goals, expectations and recognition.

The size and scope of our state government are unsustainable. In Maine, crushing taxation is the single biggest threat to our way of life.

In this environment, businesses cannot grow or create jobs. A fresh “set of eyes” looking at the challenges is needed.

Maine voters have a choice: Continue the downward cycle of our state with the same old thinking, or cast their lot with a candidate who knows how to grow Maine out of its economic recession with fresh, innovative, putting-the-citizen-first solutions.

 

– Special to the Press Herald