Dear Members of the 129th Maine Legislature,
On Wednesday, Dec. 5, you will raise your right hand and swear an oath to the Constitutions of the United States and Maine. Then, it’s official. You will hold the office to which you were elected. And the real work will begin.
Maine is in an interesting place. You will not be faced with massive shortfalls in the state budget requiring immediate attention and bailouts. Tax collections are coming in above projections. There is plenty of money in the “rainy day” accounts of the public treasury. In short, you have an asset denied many of your predecessors: time.
It is a resource which cannot be bought, yet buys you the opportunity to really grapple with the challenges facing our state. Problems that really need solving.
We’re the oldest state in the nation. We have been for quite awhile. And it is starting to catch up with us. Numerous industries in our state — manufacturing, construction, forestry — are unable to find people ready, willing, and able to fill the jobs available. An aging population means we will need more health care workers. These aren’t menial tasks; they are crafts and trades necessary to keep our state afloat.
How do we fix it? Simple: get more, younger people to move here. There are a lot of ideas out there on how to do it.
One is to solicit “new Mainers,” the name given to immigrants coming to American shores. Another is to attract people who enjoy “quality of place,” the je-ne-sais-quoi of our mountains, lakes, forests, beaches, and communities. A third is to entice native-born sons and daughters home. Many of them were just here for Thanksgiving, before returning to their homes in Massachusetts, New York, and points beyond.
Yet, if it was that easy, it would already be done. That’s where you come in. It is purely anecdotal, but my guess is if you asked those Thanksgiving travelers why they haven’t come home (I did), you’d find a fairly common answer: “I can’t afford it.”
We have one of the highest tax burdens in the country, behind only New York and Hawaii. Every dollar a family has to pay to town hall or Augusta is one that cannot be saved or spent on anything from groceries to enjoying our “quality of place.”
Part of the reason the burden is high is because wages are low. The solution isn’t moving people from $10 an hour jobs to $13 an hour; those are not jobs for which a skilled person will uproot their family. Rather, we need to foster an environment that creates well-paying careers. To create those jobs, businesses need capital, infrastructure, and a regulatory environment which is collaborative and not adversarial.
The opportunity is there. There is significant opportunity in our forest products industry to lead the way in new building materials, creating “plyscrapers” out of hi-tech wood.
We have long runways and deep-water ports accessing a possibly ice-free northern shipping route. Between aeronautical businesses, a possible “spaceport” in Limestone and Brunswick, or furthering intermodal connections in Portland, Searsport, and Eastport, we could play a critical role in moving people and goods around (and off!) the globe.
And, lest we forget, Maine remains “Vacationland.” Contrary to some arguments, you can make a great living in the tourism industry. That is why countless Maine bartenders, waiters, and restaurateurs fought to restore the “tip credit” repealed by referendum. And much of our “play” economy supports things like our agricultural heritage; we’re not a “foodie” destination because we’re importing Australian beef.
There is plenty to do. But you don’t have a crisis to solve on day 1. So, please, take some time and find the best solutions you can to the problems we face. Whatever your party or position, we’re rooting for you. Nothing less than the future of Maine is riding on it.
Time to get to work.