Thursday, April 24, 2014
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Cutler points to North Carolina as an example of a state where people came together to hammer out and implement a plan, raising their per capita income from 71 percent to 93 percent of the national average over little more than a generation.
His plan would focus on these areas:
• Use Maine's attractiveness as a competitive advantage.
• Invest in the development of Maine's brand.
• Unlock the potential of Maine's natural resources, particularly in agriculture, to grow jobs.
• Promote more year-round and cultural tourism.
• Support the creative economy in arts, manufacturing and research.
I would push back a bit against the tendency of politicians and government to try to pick winning sectors of the future. Instead, we should be supporting the people who can grow companies that build or grow quality Maine products for sale to the world, in whatever industry sector or region of Maine they exist.
Overall, though, this plan is a big improvement over the majority of Maine's economic plans of the past, which regularly seem to urge us to do everything better without focusing on the drivers of the next economy.
It's a strong plan that will help raise the level of discussion in this upcoming campaign, and is available at www.cutlerformaine.com.
Alan Caron is president of Envision Maine, a nonprofit organization that promotes Maine's next economy, and a partner at the Caron & Egan Consulting Group. He can be contacted at: