Any time a campaign releases a long, colorful booklet describing a series of proposals about a topic, you know the candidate is getting serious about something. Often, these releases are read by virtually nobody and intended more for the presentation than the content.
Michaud’s jobs plan is no exception.
In his case, perusing the content reveals a laundry list of liberal proposals that have been recycled in this state for decades. Increase the amount of local food purchased by Maine schools? Check, recycled from the Libby Mitchell plan. Spend state money on propping up renewable energy? That was in Libby’s plan, too — and in President Obama’s. Ask him how well it worked out for Solyndra. Increase bond spending? Yup, that was there four years ago as well.
Some of Michaud’s other proposals are slightly more original. For example, on education, he proposes giving away the sophomore year of college education for free. According to his own estimates, this would cost $15.1 million annually, and he provides us with no clue as to how he would pay for it. Proposing new education spending when Augusta has never met the 55 percent threshold of funding for K-12 education required by law seems reckless, especially when you don’t say where the money’s coming from.
Moreover, this plan is not particularly bold. Other governors are doing far more for education. In Tennessee, for example, Gov. Bill Haslam has proposed making college tuition free at all of the state’s community colleges across the board. Unlike Michaud, he has offered a specific funding mechanism to do so: the state lottery. That type of specific, bold reform is what Maine needs in other areas as well as education.
Michaud isn’t offering that. Instead, he’s offering the usual liberal solution: more spending without a source. That’s his proposal to help small businesses as well: increase funding of various grants to help them get started. It’s not a bad idea, but if it’s viable, it should be fully funded through the general fund, not offered as part of a bond package that would be difficult to maneuver through the Legislature. It’s also not a new idea, and Michaud’s document should have included analysis of how effective these programs have been at the federal level and in other states.
Another element of Michaud’s plan is to boost Maine exports. He wants to create a domestic version of the Maine International Trade Center, which he praises to the hilt — as well he should. The MITC is an example of a successful public-private partnership that costs the state very little while producing much. It’s exactly the sort of program the government should be doing, and expanding their mission makes sense.
However, in Michaud’s case, it’s hard to take his praise of MITC at face value. Not only does he have no firsthand experience with running a business, in his political career he’s made a point of opposing free trade. He’s consistently opposed NAFTA, claiming it costs American jobs, and done everything he could to derail it. He’s also again and again supported protectionist “Buy America” provisions for federal spending. These types of provisions make it harder for American businesses to compete abroad, as they encourage other countries to enact the same types of protectionist policies and end up costing American taxpayers money.
As a member of the Obscure Caucus in Congress, Michaud’s views on free trade mattered very little. As governor, they matter very much. From Angus King to Paul LePage, governors have taken trips abroad to help Maine businesses overseas. Governors very often serve as trade ambassadors on behalf of their states, but with Michaud opposing free trade, it’s reasonable to question his commitment to this vital task. If he ends up expanding domestic exports by small businesses while reducing international exports by larger ones, it could well be a net loss to the state.
This state needs to meet its current commitments before spending new money. Let’s meet the 55 percent threshold before giving away free college education. Let’s get people off the waitlists for medical care before expanding Medicaid. Let’s cut energy subsidies and open the market, not create new ones.
We need bold, new ideas to grow our economy, not the same old laundry list of proposals repackaged into a shiny new PDF.
Note: This post was originally published here on bangordailynews.com.