Imagine that you raise sheep for a living, and your present and future livelihood is dependent on the stability and growth of your flock.

Would you regard it as a wise decision to go out and slaughter one or more of your sheep for breakfast, lunch and dinner, day in and day out?

And at the same time would you consider it prudent to leave the sheepfold’s gate open so even more of the witless critters could wander away?

If you think these practices are good examples of animal husbandry, then you are fully qualified to have been a Democratic elected official over the past couple of decades, when Democrats and their public-policy and social-service allies ran the state from top to bottom.

Because that’s how Democrats have treated the state’s businesses, and the flock shows the results. In fact, the results are so obvious that people all over the nation can see it, including Forbes magazine, which just released its annual ranking of how the 50 states line up in “the best states for business and careers.”

As I’m sure you’ve heard, Maine came in last, 50th out of 50. The overall rating was determined by a number of individual ratings in various components of state policy, and it isn’t exactly the image of a beckoning index finger. (It better resembles another digit, but leave that aside.)

In Forbes’ reckoning, Maine ranks 44th in business costs; 28th in labor supply; 45th in regulatory environment; 42nd in economic climate; 50th in growth prospects; and 17th in quality of life.

As Forbes put it, “We factor in 37 points of data to determine the ranks in the six main areas. Business costs, which include labor, energy and taxes, are weighted the most heavily.”

When all that was said and done, the magazine reported, “The worst states for business continue to be dominated by those in the northeast including: New Jersey (No. 44), Vermont (No. 45), Rhode Island (No. 48) and Maine which lands at No. 50 for a second straight year.

“Maine suffers from energy costs 31 percent above the national average, stagnant population growth and anemic forecasts when it comes to job and gross state product growth.”

You know, you have to work long and hard to achieve results like that. It is a substantial accomplishment to come in last in what may be the most important ranking for your future prosperity.

Of course, the flaw in the metaphor that opened this column is that business owners aren’t sheep. Most of them are persons of above-average smarts (if not grad-school certified “intelligence”) and display far-above-average initiative and drive to succeed.

Worse, this story isn’t just being read in Maine. It has flown worldwide, and it not only describes a present reality, it will shape a future one — unless it is countered by what Maine’s leaders do in the coming weeks and months.

The Republicans who took over state government a year ago have their work cut out for them. It’s not that there hasn’t been some progress — taxes are a bit lower (but have more room to fall), the obstacles to opening or expanding a business are somewhat reduced (but there still is a way to go) and a sign saying “Open for Business” remains at the entrance to the Maine Turnpike (presumably under 24-hour guard against the people who stole the first one — presumably fans of poverty and high taxes).

It’s not enough. Maine is next door to a state with no income taxes whatsoever (New Hampshire is 25th on Forbes’ list, while Utah, another small state, is first).

There isn’t any mystery about what it takes to be a business-friendly state. Pointing to numbers of government employees (supporting state and local employment is where most of the “stimulus” funds were “invested”) won’t help. Government pays no taxes, and the best way it can “create or save jobs” is to establish the conditions that encourage private entrepreneurs to perform that task.

Excessive permitting requirements, a huge regulatory burden and restrictive land use requirements are great ways to stifle growth, not to encourage it.

Those are areas that the current leadership in Augusta has said it recognizes need addressing, but progress has been limited.

This report isn’t the first alarm that has been sounded. As Forbes noted, Maine was 50th last year, too. And Mainers may not have forgotten that House Democratic Leader Emily Cain said, “My caucus hates these tax cuts” when majority Republicans passed lower tax rates into law.

The GOP has a limited horizon to show results that go well beyond what has been accomplished so far. If Maine is 50th next year, that will be evidence of their failure to act when decisive action was needed.

The clock is ticking.

M.D. Harmon is a retired journalist. He can be contacted at:

[email protected]