LEWISTON – Democratic gubernatorial nominee Libby Mitchell proposed Friday to merge the state Department of Economic and Community Development and the State Planning Office to create a new agency with a singular focus on job creation.

Mitchell, speaking at a Democratic Party office in Lewiston, said her Governor’s Office of Strategic Initiatives and Job Creation would employ “business advocates” who would help business owners navigate state regulations.

A system akin to the state’s 211 information line — for inquiries about state social and emergency services — would be established for businesses to contact an advocate.

“Everything that I’ve been trying to talk about around the state has been about job creation,” she said. “Part of that is to have a government that is ready for the 21st century.”

The new office would report directly to the governor. She said the merger would save money and she would be able to reduce the state work force by eliminating duplication.

Mitchell is one of five gubernatorial candidates on the Nov. 2 ballot. She faces Republican Paul LePage, the mayor of Waterville, and independents Eliot Cutler, Shawn Moody and Kevin Scott.

Former Democratic state Rep. Jeremy Fischer, a lawyer with Bernstein Shur who has served as chairman of the Legislature’s Appropriations Committee, said while there’s a need to reform government, it does ensure clean air and water, and provide services to those who need them.

Fischer was a co-chairman, along with business consultant Elizabeth Reuthe of Vassalboro, of a Mitchell campaign subcommittee that examined how to make government more transparent, efficient, effective and responsive to residents. Friday’s announcement was the product of that effort.

“There are people in this race who say we need to destroy government,” Fischer said. “We don’t need to destroy government. We need to improve it and reform it.”

Cutler released a statement calling Mitchell’s plans “cosmetic” and “frivolous.”

“(They) will do nothing to improve the cost environment for Maine businesses,” he said. “Nothing to make needed structural changes in Maine government.”

John Morris, chief of staff for the LePage campaign, declined to comment late Friday because the campaign hadn’t yet seen Mitchell’s proposals.

Mitchell also proposes to require all state contracts to have a “claw-back provision” that would let the state save money if a contractor didn’t meet certain requirements.

And she wants to change management practices in all state agencies to streamline the process of government.

In addition, Mitchell wants to require licensing and regulatory boards to broadcast proceedings over the Internet to increase transparency, and require political appointees to file “more detailed financial disclosure forms.”

Another reform would allow businesses to go to regulatory boards with suggestions of different ways to comply with state rules.

“We need government to do our roads and make sure everybody has an adequate education,” Mitchell said. “What is it we can take away to make sure businesses do not have unnecessary barriers?”

MaineToday Media State House Reporter Susan Cover can be contacted at 620-7015 or at:

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