A week from now, Maine citizens will have the opportunity to participate in an electoral exercise that should be blessedly free of excessive partisanship, secretive, shady supporters offering gaudy promises, and slippery “facts” and emotionally appealing solutions to poorly defined problems.

On June 13, we will have the opportunity to answer one very simple, yes-or-no question that directly addresses the most critical issue facing our state: pushing our economy in the direction of the skills-based foundation that is our only hope for beginning to solve the full range of our social needs. The question is:

“Do you favor a $50,000,000 bond issue to provide $45,000,000 in funds for investment in research, development and commercialization in the State to be used for infrastructure, equipment and technology upgrades that enable organizations to gain and hold market share, to increase revenues and to expand employment or preserve jobs for Maine people, to be awarded through a competitive process to Maine-based public and private entities, leveraging other funds in a one-to-one ratio and $5,000,000 in funds to create jobs and economic growth by lending to or investing in small businesses with the potential for significant growth and strong job creation?”

This question derives neither from secrecy nor desperation. It was carefully prepared by a bipartisan legislative committee, subject to full public debate by all manner of interested citizens, subject matter experts and public-policy makers, and passed on to the voters by their elected representatives.

This vote is not before Maine’s citizens next Tuesday because disgruntled activists, fed up with legislative gridlock, took their own admittedly simplistic, one-sided “solution” directly to the voters.

Nor is it before us because of special interests who know that operating in the shadows is the only way to slip approval of an utterly self-serving raid on the public purse past a gullible electorate.

No, this election is before us not because the legislative process didn’t work, but because it did work. Our elected representatives labored diligently and, in the end, cooperatively, and have asked us to take that work the next step and put it into practice. Now it is up to us to applaud this success with our stamp of approval and begin real work on real problems.

What will a “yes” vote do? Two things.

 First, it would give $45 million to the Maine Technology Institute. This money would effectively re-capitalize the Maine Technology Asset Fund, an economic development program that has operated successfully for over a decade, a program that has, in effect, been the state’s major financial commitment to economic development. The $45 million would be dedicated to grants “for investment in research, development and commercialization” and “for infrastructure, equipment and technology upgrades,” and all for the purpose of expanding or creating “jobs for Maine people.”

The grants would be made on a competitive basis to “Maine-based public and private entities,” and each application must be accompanied by a $1-to-$1 match of private or federal funds.

The remaining $5 million in bond proceeds would go to the Finance Authority of Maine. As with the first $45 million, this money would recapitalize a successful existing program: the Small Enterprise Growth Fund. This fund, administered by FAME and directed by the Small Enterprise Growth Board, invests in or loans to Maine small businesses (defined as those with fewer than 50 employees or annual sales of less than $5 million) “that demonstrate the potential for high growth and public benefit.”

Obviously, $50 million in state investment funds, no matter how successful, would be but a tiny drop in the bucket of a state economy with an annual gross product of about $60 billion. The money would, however, make the state a player, however minor, in the battle now raging worldwide to shape the very nature of work – the battle to replace or enhance human ingenuity.

As I have suggested in this space several times, there are two sides in this battle: the pessimists (the reluctant and dreary proponents of secular stagnation) who believe that current technological forces are driving us inevitably to a world of algorithmic labor displacement; and the optimists (who have yet to adopt or been forced into a cheery alternative moniker) who believe in the indomitable spirit of human curiosity, imagination, ingenuity and entrepreneurship.

By voting to put some of our own money – however small the amount – into “infrastructure, equipment and technology upgrades” designed to create jobs, and into hopeful young enterprises budding forth in this rocky spring, Maine voters have the opportunity to express their “yes … yes … yes …,” not as a cry for a lost past to be dragged back angrily, but for a hopeful future to be welcomed eagerly.

Consulting economist Charles Lawton, Ph.D., can be contacted at:

[email protected]