Sunday, March 9, 2014
No issue is more important to Maine people than jobs and our state's sluggish recovery from the national recession.
Fluid Imaging Tecnhologies in Yarmouth and other innovative Maine companies are examples of the economic growth that can come from state funds supporting research and development.
Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer
This is true for Democrats, Republicans and independents. It is true in rural Maine and urban Maine, in the mountains and along the coast. This concern is nearly universal.
Which is not to say that there is universal agreement on what to do about it. Gov. LePage has embarked on a course based on small government, lower taxes and fewer regulations that he hopes will spur private-sector growth.
There is another vision that should not be abandoned, however. It is embodied in the research and development bond that LePage vetoed last week, and which will come back before lawmakers today for an override vote. Legislators should not miss this chance to support a proven job creator that could have a profound effect on the people they represent.
The bond issue would put $20 million into the Maine Technology Asset Fund managed by the Maine Technology Institute. Grants would be awarded on a competitive basis to innovators who have partners in the private or academic sectors that can at least match the state's investment.
Investments in biotechnology, forestry, agriculture, precision manufacturing and other areas build the number of high-quality, good-paying jobs that Maine people want. Successful R&D grants lead to successful self sustaining commercial spin-offs that build the overall skill level of Maine's work force and its capacity to attract new business investment.
We think that the governor's approach is the wrong way to build Maine's economy. But you don't have to reject his vision totally to see that he is wrong on this issue.
Maine lags far behind the rest of New England when it comes to investment in innovation. Our commitment is well below the national average as well. We stand out as a state that is not interested in expanding its knowledge-based economy. Even if you want to shrink Maine's government, this is not the message Maine should be sending to the world.
These investments would help Maine capitalize on its assets – modernizing traditional industries while advancing new ones, using the Maine lifestyle as a selling point.
It may be true that Maine government can't spend its way into prosperity, but it can't cut its way there either. Targeted investment in a strong innovation economy should be part of every lawmaker's vision, regardless of party.
The Legislature should vote to override the governor's veto and send this issue to Maine voters, trusting them to decide whether investing in job creation is the right thing to do.