Maine Voices: Treasurer, governor accentuate the negative about Maine's economy

Posted: August 16, 2011 | Senator Dill

The state has a lot going for it that hasn’t been included in their ‘Debbie Downer’ spiels.

Read more at the PPH.

State Sen. Cynthia Dill, a Democrat, is a resident of Cape Elizabeth and a small-business owner.

CAPE ELIZABETH – Stop any successful business person on the street and ask them if it’s good marketing to constantly point out what’s negative about your product. Ask a responsible CEO if it makes sense to give out bonuses your company can’t afford, or ignore annual maintenance of the equipment that makes your widgets better than the rest.

The “business strategy” of state Treasurer Bruce Poliquin and Gov. LePage is to brand Maine as an unsophisticated salvage state, cut taxes in a way that punishes public employees and creates massive future deficits, and ignore making critical investments in Maine’s infrastructure.

At every turn, and reiterated in his most recent column, the state treasurer talks about how bad a place Maine is compared to New Hampshire. He takes every opportunity to dust off the stale and questionable Forbes report that said Maine is the worst place to do business, and that New Jersey is a better place to live.

Since that time Forbes and other magazines have published numerous other “studies” that place Maine at the top of a variety of lists that never get mentioned by the treasurer or our governor. Maine is among the best places to live, raise children, and start a business. Why isn’t this our message to the world?

For instance, Maine has been recently recognized by the Council on State Taxation in a study done by Ernst and Young as having the best tax structure for new business investment in the country. Maine’s attractive business tax policy was accomplished over the past several years through the state budget process and other changes to the tax code.

Maine was also this year designated by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce as having the best business infrastructure in the country because of the Three Ring Binder project.

This project, 1,100 miles of fiber optic cable that will bring high-speed Internet to rural Maine, is the result of a federal ARRA stimulus grant and a shining example of a successful public-private partnership. It is being touted around the country, but not here at home.

Why aren’t the treasurer and the governor talking about these and other major accomplishments? Why the incessant “Debbie Downer” approach to our beautiful state, where bold projects like off-shore wind farms and sustainable agriculture are drawing national attention, and where the crime rate is low and the environment beautiful?

Is it because the GOP is so desperate to hang on to its recently acquired power that no credit can be given to any good work that has happened in Maine over the last 40 years?

And yes, let’s talk about all the wonderful tax breaks recently given out in Maine’s biennial budget under the GOP leadership. We did in fact lower income tax rates, line up state deductions with the feds, give businesses big tax breaks and incentives, and increase the tax exemption for millionaires.

One important thing our state treasurer fails to mention, however, is that these tax cuts, like the Bush tax cuts, are not paid for and create a $400 million deficit in next year’s state budget. They also come at the expense of retired public employees and teachers.

Take it from this business owner and someone who has the honor of representing many of the “high wage earning residents” Poliquin hopes to clone, this is not a recipe for prosperity. This formula of giving out tax breaks to people who don’t need them, and not paying for them in a responsible way is a carbon copy of what has paralyzed our country nationally.

Over the next three years, the deficit created by the tax cuts will lead to further erosion of programs that serve the public good. Our schools and public safety will have their budgets cut, public institutions will further decline and the quality of life as Americans will diminish.

Finally, call up a small business owner in your community. Ask what will happen if the business stops maintaining its equipment and investing in and planning for the future.

The state treasurer and the governor denied any bonding in the last year — at a time of record low interest rates and costs of construction and people desperate for jobs. Maine’s roads and bridges, the Land for Maine’s Future, public places, and our research and development projects are the machinery that keeps this state humming. Failure to properly invest in the upkeep of this critical system is reckless.

Everyone wants the state of Maine to be fiscally conservative. “Living within our means” when we create big future deficits, however, means cutting public services that are essential to success and social mobility. Branding Maine as a poor step-child won’t attract people or business.

The state treasurer and the governor of Maine need to stop focusing on the next election and start governing the state with the integrity and business savvy it deserves.