Opinion

Mills gives voters lots to consider with economic prosperity plan

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Democratic gubernatorial candidate Janet Mills this week released an action plan for the Maine economy.

The plan includes 19 action items, specific recommendations for improving the state’s economy and spreading prosperity into rural areas.

Parts of Maine are doing well right now – Portland, Bangor, Lewiston-Auburn, and the areas around them. The state’s official unemployment figures are low and most polls have shown that health care, not the economy, is the top concern of voters.

But anyone who’s traveled around the state – as the candidates for governor surely have – can see that economic activity is uneven and that parts of Maine, particularly in rural areas away from the coast, have not benefited from a growing economy.

Mills’ plan takes direct aim with several smart initiatives that seem particularly focused on rural Maine and empowering small businesses, which make up the bulk of job creators in the state.

During a press event releasing the plan, Mills pointed to a damning Maine Department of Labor report released in August predicting that the state would add fewer than 100 jobs between 2016 and 2026 and that our workforce would age significantly during the same time, losing more than 30,000 workers between the ages of 45 and 54 and adding more than 30,000 older than 65.

Stagnation and continuing on our current path isn’t an option.

The plan has three broad sections: Laying the Foundation for Economic Growth; Supporting Small Business; and Growing Our Workforce. Each section includes specific proposals.

The plan includes some usual suspects for a Democrat. It would expand Medicaid, promote broadband expansion and make investments in roads in bridges. All solid – if not revolutionary – ideas that most Mainers should support.

Three other proposals stand out to me.

Mills would create a Rural Workplace Grant to support workers who move their careers to rural communities. The proposal would offer competitive grants to communities to create co-working locations with high-speed internet that would make rural living more accessible for remote workers and act as an incubator for small businesses.

I like the idea because I see real potential for transformation in some communities and the idea is practical and achievable. It’s not promising to re-invent the economy. It’s talking about creating one more tool to attract a modern workforce to parts of the state that need new people and new investment.

The second idea I like a lot is really three specific proposals but with one intent – to help small businesses raise capital and grow. Specifically Mills would create short-term no interest loans for small businesses that need to add employees, support employee who want to buy the business and provide competitive grants to veteran-owned businesses that can create and sustain new jobs.

Third, Mills would also create a “Welcome Home Program,” which would use tax credits to help attract new workers to the state. Maine is old and getting older. Deaths outnumber births and if we don’t take action, our economy will suffer dramatically.

If there’s a quibble with the Welcome Home Program it’s that it isn’t big enough. We must make a serious and concerted effort to attract all kinds of people to the state. The Welcome Home Program is a start, but it’ll take a lot more.

Understanding what a candidate says they will do is the very best way to predict what they will actually do if they’re elected.

Mills has outlined a credible plan with proposals to address real problems in the Maine economy. Voters should check it out.

Following a recent tradition for Republican candidates for higher office, it feels like Shawn Moody is in the witness protection program.

He hasn’t revealed, to date, much in the lines of public policy. And while he seems like a nice man, his potential to deliver four more years of the policies of Gov. Paul LePage isn’t a selling point for a lot of voters.

His campaign response to Mill’s plan was to have a campaign spokesman deliver a talking-point attack instead of discussing its merits or shortcomings.

“Nothing Mills can put on paper can help her escape her record of job-killing taxes and red tape. Only Shawn Moody has a lifelong career of creating jobs and growing Maine’s economy,” the campaign said.

The critique falls short of being serious.

What you put on paper matters a lot. A quick look at Moody’s website shows a bunch of right-wing boilerplate about regulations and red tape and standard political tropes.

Voters should demand to see the details. Mills has given them something to consider.

David Farmer is a public affairs, political and media consultant in Portland, where he lives with his wife and two children. He was senior adviser to Democrat Mike Michaud’s 2014 campaign for governor.

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