Why am I Running?
There are many things happening right now in Augusta that Maine citizens should be concerned about, from challenges to our public education system, to the fraying social safety net, a slackening of environmental protections, to tax policy proposals that will put the state into a permanent fiscal crisis.
Portland is special...
I'm running because I am concerned that the special needs of Portland and other service center communities are not being met at the state level. Program cuts in Augusta end up on our doorstep - Portland's needs don't go away, and with each cut, serious new pressures are placed on our already stretched local property tax base. We need to extend the work of our Mayor, Michael Brennan, and our Portland legislative delegation to strengthen alliances between Maine cities, to make sure that Augusta is accountable to the particular issues of Maine's urban communities.
Education is critical...
At the base of all economic development is education. A trained workforce depends on effective integration between the K-12 public schools, the community colleges, and our region's public and private universities. We need to assure that education is accessible and affordable - and we can't forget that education is more than just job training. We need to support general education, as well as effective workforce development strategies.
We also need to focus on making sure effective pre-k eductional opportunities continue to be strong and affordable, so our youngest citizens can enter school ready to learn. Research shows again and again that failure to invest in this segment of the population will only cost our society more later.
The Maine Humanities Council, where I have worked for more than a decade, has focused on providing resources and training for teachers, pre-k-12, and I am constantly reminded of the critical importance of energized and imaginative educators.
You probably don't need me to point out that education costs have risen in recent years far faster than inflation. This is due to the fact that as personnel costs have risen dramatically (tied closely to the cost of health care) the state's per-student subsidy has declined. According to one Maine college president, 18 years ago the state subsidy accounted for about 70% of the cost of college, and now it is down to under 40%. It seems absurd to me that a college education should cost as much as a house, and because it does, an entire generation of students risks being unable to participate in the economy.
We need to make sure that students can get their degrees on time and on schedule - if it takes you six years to get a degree, you'll pay more and likely have more debt.
And we need to work to preserve and expand funding for scholarships for low-income students entering the public higher education system. We need to find ways to improve completion rates for college – ¾ of a degree is ultimately far more expensive than a full degree, and too many people fail to complete.
Maine is an extraordinary place...
The notion of “quality of place” (mentioned above) has all but vanished from our statewide dialogue, and I think it’s important to recognize it as a critical economic development tool. By virtue of our location, we have high transportation energy costs. We also have high taxes caused in part by a small, aging and relatively poor population.
While there may be ways to make marginal improvements, those factors are not likely going to fundamentally change - The best thing we can use to attract business investment is use Maine itself – those elements and assets that make us different from other states. We have astonishing natural beauty, excellent cultural resources, a great sense of place, and lots of unused infrastructure in the form of historic downtowns. Let's devise policies that capitalize on and continue to preserve those assets.
Environmental protection is important for both moral and practical reasons. My Dad was the author of a Sierra Club natural history guide to New England and another book about the New England landscape, and so I was brought up with experiences that made me acutely aware of our region's natural resources, as well as ecology and conservation issues. We can't abandon our hard-won environmental protections. I am honored to have been endorsed by Maine Conservation Voters.
When the economy is flat is the best time to think about how to manage growth. We need to maintain our commitment to land and natural resource conservation while also continuing to invest in education and other forms of workforce development. Let’s dust off the Brookings Report and move ahead in a concerted fashion.'
Let's not forget our most vulnerable...
In a time of economic volatility, we need to assure that every government expenditure is handled as efficiently and strategically as possible. That said, we should not allow reckless cuts in our social service programs, which have recently been framed more in terms of fraud than about poverty and real need. Needs are serious in Portland, and in Maine as a whole. Of course we must work to assure efficiency in program delivery, and we should root out anyone who is, in fact, abusing Maine's social service network, but most recipients of "welfare" are hard working Mainers with jobs.
We need to maintain our social safety net, and to continue efforts to combat social problems. I commend Governor LePage for focusing attention on domestic violence, which is an epidemic that crosses all social and class lines.
We have old houses and use lots of oil...
Maine has one of the oldest housing stocks in the country, along with the greatest percentage of houses heated with heating oil of any state. This is a serious vulnerability at a time when we can assume that oil costs are only going to increase in the long run. What is already unaffordable will only become worse. I am in favor of alternative energy sources, conservation incentives, and incentives for homeowners to improve their energy mix. I am in favor of Maine's wood pellet and wood chip fuel industries to help keep us warm as we move away from oil.
To be sure, there are emissions associated with these forms of heating, and that is a real issue, but with catalytic converters and burners using the latest technology, they can be kept to a minimum. And when the fuel is sourced near where it is used, the emissions relating to transportation and processing are reduced considerably. Almost all of every dollar spent on oil goes immediately out of state, yet we have the ability to keep the entire biomass fuel supply chain in Maine, creating jobs, along with a sustainable form of heating. Local logging, local chipping, local hauling: there is no single answer to any of Maine's or the nation's energy problems, but these fuels are clearly a piece of the puzzle that can help our state, especially its rural areas.
There is also a significant opportunity to create jobs and reduce oil use by extending low-interest loans and other incentives to encourage weatherization, insulation and heating efficiency improvements.
And you could say that we eat oil, too!
That's an unpalatable concept, I know, but just as heating oil is a vulnerability to Maine, the cost of shipping our food great distances will become less manageable if oil prices continue to rise (and they will). Maine was once the "breadbasket of New England". In an exciting turn of events, the number of active farms in Maine is now increasing. This has implications for new business around agricultural value-added products. This means better food, grown closer to home.
This is but one part of the emerging "buy local" movement, which is proving to be a powerful economic development principle, as well as a quality of life issue. One recent study in Portland indicated that the economic impact of buying from local businesses local is almost double of that that takes place when purchasing from national chains. We need to make sure that our state policies encourage new agricultural trends (how about more schools buying local produce, for example?). We need to embrace the ideas of permaculture and make them mainstream.