Amy Fried, University of Maine
Originally published in the Bangor Daily News Pollways Blog on October 28, 2014.
We built it. Bangor’s great schools and fantastic library, excellent health care facilities, outdoor music, new civic center and vibrant downtown didn’t just happen by accident.
Many people put work into creating what we have and making Bangor a thriving regional center. This is a city that doesn’t say “no” to new ideas.
But what’s been built can easily be undermined.
What happens in next week’s election could put Bangor and our region at risk.
Take our health care sector, a significant part of the local economy. More than once, I’ve talked with people running health facilities or serving on a hospital board who say they’re worried. “We’re hurting,” one said. “We need MaineCare expanded.”
Bond ratings houses, sober-minded and financially inclined, have found that hospitals where Medicaid was expanded are doing much better than those in states where they haven’t. Health care jobs are at risk in Maine, not to mention people’s health and very survival.
Policymakers in Utah, one of the most conservative states in the county just reached an agreement to expand Medicaid. The Kaiser Family Foundation found that expansion states are saving money. Here in Maine, Gov. Paul LePage still says “no.”
What about employment, more broadly? As a regional center, Bangor has not done as badly as much of Maine. But, according to the Maine Center for Economic Policy’s analysis of data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, “Since the end of the Great Recession, the U.S. has recovered 115 percent of jobs lost….New England as a whole has recovered 123 percent of jobs lost. Maine has recovered 65 percent.”
LePage vetoed an increase in the minimum wage, and he says he wants high-paying jobs. But when it came time to work with Statoil and to release bonds that would have created good jobs, LePage said “no.”
As for tax revenue generated in Bangor, we are supposed to receive some back from the state in the form of municipal revenue sharing. LePage called that “welfare” and tried to drop it down to zero, proposing policies undermining towns and cities.
As Republican George Smith noted, LePage went after the circuit breaker property tax program, the homestead property tax exemption and rent relief program for people under 65 and “tried to steal motor vehicle excise taxes from the towns.”
These cuts often hit smaller towns and rural areas harder. As Smith put it, “LePage sharply decreased the revenues of local government, and then reduced or took away the programs that help Mainers cope with punishingly high property taxes.”
And then there’s Bangor’s nationally recognized school system. According to a report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, Maine decreased support for K-12 education by 13.3 percent since 2008 when controlling for inflation, a $736 cut per student. In contrast, Vermont cut its per pupil funding by $7 and every other New England state increased it. But on meeting the obligation to cover 55 percent of school costs, LePage still says “no.”
With the election coming up, who are the alternatives?
Cutler brings some interesting ideas and was the fresh face four years ago, but he has relatively low support. Perhaps that is because he largely kept out of the public eye after the 2010 election. Hopefully he will serve this state in the future, but it won’t be from the Blaine House in 2015.
Mike Michaud is not just the only viable alternative to LePage, but he also brings a wealth of experience, detailed policy ideas and a temperament that enable him to get to “yes.”
In the Maine Legislature, his peers picked him as chair of the Appropriations Committee and Senate president. Under his leadership, working relationships were so positive that now-Republican party chair Rick Bennett said back then, “[T]he Senate has really grown to be more of a family.”
Michaud continued his bipartisanship in Congress, in 2013 ranking 19th among Democrats for having Republican co-sponsors of his bills.
Michaud worked with Republican Steve Buyer to enact a law that saves $1.1 billion in administrative costs at the VA.
Jeff Miller, the Republican chair of the Veterans’ Affairs committee, called Michaud “a very thoughtful man who studies the issues and doesn’t make snap judgments.” “He “hears from both sides and then makes up his own mind.”
With Bangor and all of Maine on the ballot, it’s time to decide.
Amy Fried is professor of political science at the University of Maine. She is a member of the Maine chapter of the national Scholars Strategy Network, which brings together scholars across the country to address public challenges and their policy implications.