September 19, 2013

Alan Caron: Cutler's plan for economy ambitious, thoughtful, optimistic

In his just-released fiscal platform, the Blaine House hopeful focuses on the drivers of the next economy.

In this coming election for governor, nothing will be more important than a candidate's plan for the economy, the viability of that plan and his ability to implement it.

The first of those plans has now been made public with the release of independent Eliot Cutler's 104-page book, "A State of Opportunity: A Plan to Build a Healthier, Smarter, Stronger, Younger and More Prosperous Maine."

As the other candidates release their plans for the economy, I'll review and summarize those as well. My inclination will be to focus on the positive aspects of those plans, whenever I can, and to try to find the places where they overlap and reinforce each other. They'll be plenty of negative chatter elsewhere.

First, Cutler should be commended for putting his ideas into a coherent and readable format. There are far too many elected officials who seem to be functionally illiterate when it comes to the economy. They know all about how to shrink government or slice the economic pie more fairly, but too little about how to grow that pie.

Cutler presents an ambitious, thoughtful and optimistic plan that is well-researched and well-written. It manages to connect the dots between Maine's character, environment, national brand, high costs, innovation and leadership without reading like a legislative document or legal brief.

The plan begins with a sobering review of Maine's economic stagnation over the last few generations, including the last decade, where we saw virtually no net increase in jobs or average incomes.

For those of you who will in the future swear you read this book, but won't, here are the crib notes.

THE NEED FOR A PLAN

Cutler argues that the absence of a vision and a plan for Maine's economy has plagued us for decades. "What stands in our way is simply the fact that the State of Maine has no plan for Maine's future, no road map to guide decision after decision of critical importance. A growing economy doesn't happen by accident," he says.

SETTING HIGH GOALS

The plan proposes a set of ambitious goals for 2020, including doubling our per capita growth rate; becoming the healthiest state in America while reducing health costs; improving elementary school reading proficiency; doubling tourism and land in agriculture, and making Maine younger.

HEALTH CARE

Cutler argues that as long as we pay more for health care than other states, it will be an anchor on our economy. He would sign Maine up for the new federal health care law, among other changes.

EDUCATION

He proposes to make public education funding more fair; extend the school year; merge the university and community college systems; lower the cost of higher education; expand early childhood education, and reward innovative teachers.

GOVERNMENT

Cutler seeks a "smarter" government, if not a smaller one; "fair and smart" tax reforms; a "Cleanup Commission" to eliminate outdated programs, and a "Grim Reaper" office to weed out outdated regulations.

ELECTIONS

Cutler attaches some of our economic woes to an outdated partisan political structure and campaign money, and he calls for open primaries and runoff elections, more transparency in campaign contributions and greater separation between elected officials and lobbying.

MAKING MAINE YOUNGER

Arguing that the economy can't grow without more young people and an infusion of new energy and people, Cutler proposes to forgive taxes for student who stay in Maine and attract more skilled immigrants.

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