It is easy to get excited about the soon-to-be released report titled “Reinventing Maine Government.” It is a focused call to action for citizens and candidates alike to examine how government works and retool it to meet today’s needs efficiently and affordably.

This new report was commissioned by GrowSmart Maine, sponsor of the previously released Brookings Report.

The project has been led by Alan Caron of Envision Maine with the extensive advice and counsel of more than a dozen people whose interest, experience and expertise span the spectrum of economics, health care, education and government. In the interest of transparency, I must say I have been involved as one of those advisers.

Aside from the recommendations for action, the value of this report is its wealth of facts. In clear terms, it compares Maine with the other 49 states and with a peer group of similarly rural states. It tells readers what Maine would look like if it were simply average in the metrics that measure how the public’s resources are spent.

The conclusions are both startling and compelling.

As Caron has said from the outset of his work with both Brookings and this report, if we all can start with the same information, then we can debate which direction Maine ought to pursue to create lasting prosperity for its citizens.

One fact that appears certain is that we are running out of money and running out of time.

In recent months, the state’s public employee pension system projected that it will need billions of dollars from the state’s general fund to meet its constitutional obligations by 2028.

The Maine Department of Transportation announced it has a $720 million shortfall for projects scheduled in 2011-2012.

In addition, there are all the other demands that state policy has placed on Maine taxpayers. But the big cost drivers are health care, education and government itself.

Chief among the direct and indirect costs of government policy is Maine’s high cost of health care. Not only do taxpayers fund the health plan costs for our valued public employees, but we pay directly and indirectly for public plans that provide access and coverage to those who qualify for Medicaid and the Dirigo Health plan.

The cost of health care is a tax by any other name and robs us all of money that could go toward savings and investments.

As the current debate among candidates for governor and Legislature reveals, we must address whether the state will ever meet its statutory mandate to fund 55 percent of K-12 education costs. To balance the state budget, the Legislature chose to cut back on state aid to education, forcing school districts to make choices about programs, teaching positions and administration.

The data in this report plot a path that could bring Maine into alignment with other states in this critical area of public spending.

The report also weighs in on public funding for higher education and the need to not only make strategic investments but to restructure its governance in support of students’ intellectual and career development.

Beyond policy, the report tackles the purpose and structure of county government and the need for continued collaboration among local governments. It also recommends a flatter, leaner and more responsive state government.

So much has changed since Maine’s agrarian roots dictated the size of the Legislature and the system of county governance. It raises the question in a timely manner: Is this how government would be structured if we started from scratch today?

One of the greatest values of a report of this kind is that it comes from outside of government and from a variety of perspectives that include private, public and nonprofit experiences. Among those advising this work are former Gov. Angus King; former Central Maine Power Co. president David Flanagan; Michael Dubyak, chairman and CEO of Wright Express; Tim Hussey, CEO of Hussey Seating; and economists Charles Lawton and Richard Woodbury.

People with history in government and roots in business have weighed in to make this a practical, data-based starting point from which citizens and candidates can make informed decisions. Not all advisers or contributors have agreed to the recommendations, but they are confident that the underlying information is the best available. That is the common ground from which all informed debate should begin.

Gratefully, this report arrives many weeks before the November election, which should give the media, voters and the candidates plenty to talk about before we choose Maine’s next governor and the 186 members of the Legislature.

If you want to take a measure of the candidates, ask them if they’ve read the report, what they think about it and what they are going to do about it.

Listen carefully, then decide.

Tony Payne is a lifelong resident of Maine who is active in business, civic and political affairs. He may be reached at: [email protected]