This year there were well over 2,000 bills introduced in the Maine Legislature. Hundreds of them were “asks” by the whole spectrum of special interests. There are 186 legislators each of whom can introduce an unlimited number of bills. They are all up for election every two years, so their time frames are measured in months. Committees are organized by topic and each bill is heard individually.
There is no framework for evaluating legislation’s impact on the entire state or in the long run. Bills and issues are taken in isolation. Since Maine has no comprehensive strategic plan, there’s no way to know if any given piece of legislation will actually move the state forward overall or is just a benefit to the group proposing it.
Maine needs a strategy to attract investment, create foundational jobs, connect to the 21st Century economy, and shape the future for our children and grandchildren. Unfortunately, with our children leaving the state, an aging and stagnant population, and the loss of foundational jobs in forestry, manufacturing, and farming, too many people are fighting over a shrinking pie. Every interest group wants to help its members, but in a zero-sum economy, helping one group just harms another.
So, we have dozens of groups pushing their special interests every legislative session, issues taken in isolation, legislators who are constrained into short-term thinking, and policies that are fragmented and often counter-productive. We need to get past our toxic politics, our short-term self-interest, and the loss of so many foundational jobs, and pull together a vision for the future and the strategic plan to realize that vision.
We need to start with foundational jobs – jobs that make and do things, that create wealth, that raise the quality of life, that connect to the 21st Century economy, that pay good wages, that will keep our kids here, and that will build careers. Yes, that will require changing our priorities, creating an environment to attract investment, training people for the future, revamping our educational approaches, and taking whatever other steps are necessary to help Maine win the competition for investment and jobs.
We need a plan.