When attempting to problem-solve a current public policy issue or trend, such as Maine’s “age gap” and youth exit rates, one of the most important components you must incorporate is analyzing governmental leadership — after all, they ultimately make the decisions that will either help or make worse of the situation. So, a great deal of our focus must be put into WHO is in charge and how their views and actions will affect progress. In a more specific, forecasting sense, it is who WILL be in charge that means even more, especially when leadership is on the verge of potential turnover.
Maine is at this very point, and that is why this week’s focus is on Maine’s gubernatorial candidates for upcoming 2014 election. What are their views on the “age gap” and youth exit? Have they declared a stance? If so, what is their plan? Whose plan is better?
First off, let’s declare our potential candidates: Incumbent Governor Paul LePage declared his re-election campaign last July. So there’s your GOP candidate. U.S. Representative Mike Michaud is the only declared Democrat. He announced his campaign last August. And lastly, we have four declared Independent candidates, with Eliot Cutler, a contending 2010 gubernatorial candidate, leading the way.
Let’s start with Cutler. I saw him speak at UMaine last week as a guest lecturer for a Chinese economics course. Despite the obvious topic for the class, Maine’s demographic trends were still brought up in question by students, and Cutler was happy to answer.
Last year, Cutler published ‘A State of Opportunity’ (full version can be found here), a book that outlines his overall plan for the state going forward. During the class, he outlined a few:
“We need a strategy,” Cutler said. “Number one: Keep young people in Maine to keep an educated work force that will bring employees here.”
Creating a strategy is a big deal to Cutler. Most people are aware of the problems and are open to talk about it, he says, but they’re not proposing a plan.
“We have a good record of high school graduation in the state, but there’s a financial barrier,” Cutler said. “Looking at debt is daunting, so we’ve got to create a pay it forward, pay it back program to implement a sustainable cycle for future generations.”
This is undoubtedly true. Student debt is a national problem, but it takes on a whole new creature inside the state of Maine with several students coming from financially deprived families to begin with. Rep. Michaud has implemented specific ways to tackle this problem, as I’ll mention later.
“Number two: Attract young people to Maine,” Cutler said. “Most of the people that come to Maine want to be in Maine, so we need to find ways to attract others who will come for other reasons and realize they wanted to be in Maine too.”
Cutler elaborated on this point, but I missed some of his details. Essentially, he welcomes incentive programs, such as an income tax cut, which would entice out-of-staters, who wouldn’t regularly be coming to Maine for work to come to Maine for work. And, with many of them visiting the state for the first time, he hopes the state’s appeal and friendliness will convince these workers to stay for future generations, thus improving problems with population and the economy. What needs to happen first, though? Employers need to arrive before these workers.
“Number three: Competitive advantage,” Cutler said. “We have land, and we have water, and 1.3 million acres of that land is cultivated. We may have the oldest population in the country, but we also have the youngest population of farmers.”
It makes sense. There’s a reason why we see heavy advertisement from FarmersOnly.com. Cutler says we should move toward utilizing what we have to work with. We don’t have a young population, but a large section of population that is young is deeply interested with agriculture. Let’s embrace that and help them out, Cutler says.
“We have a tax burden, and the biggest problem is the state’s property tax … we’ve cut revenue sharing and the state’s contribution to public education, so local government’s have one option to raise revenue: increase the property tax,” Cutler said. “I think [property tax] is the most regressive tax. Back in the day, it made sense. Property was where most of people’s wealth was, and it was a good proxy, but it’s not the same anymore.”
Cutler outlines even more within his book, but essentially, it all comes down to the economic problem, which is driven by trends associated with population age, and youth exit.
As for Rep. Michaud, he’s hinted at many options to fix the problem. In his economic plan, titled ‘Maine Made’ and released last Wednesday, he touches upon the “demographic winter” and says “our economic future is largely tied to our ability to attract thousands of new working-age residents to Maine every year,” but he omits an essential plan to attract workers to fill the thousands of new jobs he has a clear vision for creating. Quotes from that piece were pulled from a Portland Press Herald article.
A plan that’s gotten lots of attention over the past few weeks that’s surely related to keeping students in Maine is Rep. Michaud’s proposal to make sophomore year at ANY Maine university free for students. He calls it the “community advantage,” and it’s outlined in ‘Maine Made,’ which can be found online here in PDF form, hosted by the Bangor Daily News. Not only would this proposal make college even more affordable for students at the University of Maine and other state schools with already competitively low costs, but also the three NESCAC institutions (Bates, Bowdoin and Colby) who already attract large amounts of out-of-state students, especially from the state of Massachusetts.
I’ll touch upon LePage‘s outlook next week, mainly because this article’s gotten far too long. So expect a Part II in a week or so.