Stop saying ‘no’ to jobs and health care

This has been a time of “no” in Maine.

Our economy has stalled, with virtually no forward momentum.

Only three states lost jobs between April 2012 and 2013. Maine was one of them.

A report comparing governors ranked Gov. Paul LePage second to last in job creation.

Maine’s economic growth rate was a paltry 0.5-percent increase in gross domestic product. Meanwhile, New England’s overall economy grew between two and three times as fast as Maine, with a GDP increase of 1.2 percent. And the nation as a whole grew five times faster than Maine at 2.5 percent.

While we can track Maine’s stagnant economy with statistics, our situation isn’t about numbers but people.

A growing economy enables people and their families to thrive. They can do more and save more. People worry less about the little costs and the big needs.

Our sluggish economy means more people are anxious about how they are going to make it. Some are scraping by, while others leave to try their luck elsewhere.

LePage came to office after campaigning on creating jobs.

Now, perhaps this was a promise he shouldn’t have made. After all, no state is a place apart. When the national economy is stormy, almost every state is battered by its currents.

But LePage has held office as the country’s economy has recovered.

While Maine typically recovers slowly, he could have freed funds to create jobs.

Instead the governor held back bonds voters approved.

Some would have put Mainers to work, improving our infrastructure. Goodness knows, we need better roads and bridges.

Those doing the work would have spent money, bought things in stores, gone out for meals, helped the owner and tipped the waiter or waitress. Some would have hired people to hot top their driveways or remodel their kitchens.

LePage refused to sign off on those and other bonds.

In 2010, Maine voters approved funds for the Communities for Maine’s Future grants. The only way to get this money was to write a proposal good enough to win a competition and to raise some of the money needed for the project.

As Professor Emily Shaw wrote last year, “One by one, those towns found private investors, received the backing of their residents and dedicated themselves to a much larger revitalization project than what the state funded alone. This bond represented seed money, which galvanized increased commitments to some places that could really use it.”

The governor’s refusal undermined winning towns’ economic development and hurt the entire state.

Other bonds were hostage to his plan to expedite paying hospitals, which were receiving funds over time. Now, after holding up many bonds, LePage says he wants more approved.

But there’s been less “yes” than “no.”

LePage also said “no” to health care for 70,000 low-income Mainers. They’ll lose out on preventive care and treatment, leading to more illness and death and shifting costs to the insured.

In turning down Medicaid expansion, LePage reflects the national Republican Party’s effort to make it harder to implement the Affordable Care Act.

As one editorialist put it, “First, Republicans limited the use of government money to spread the word. Then, when the administration reached out to the NFL and other major sports leagues for help in publicizing the new health care exchanges, the opponents resorted to intimidation.”

The Bush prescription drug law was more unpopular before its 2004 rollout than the ACA is now. But Democrats, who opposed it, never tried to undermine its implementation.

While not perfect, the ACA should do much good. Under the similar Romneycare in Massachusetts, 99.8 percent of children have health insurance. Less than 2 percent in the state lack coverage.

LePage said that Mainers who would have had coverage if Medicaid was expanded can buy subsidized insurance through these exchanges.

But those with the lowest incomes won’t qualify.

And there’s no indication that the governor will help spread the word about how people can sign up.

LePage’s health care approach made premiums relatively higher in rural areas, which have more low-income and uninsured people.

Mainers will have more chances to improve our jobs and health care.

On some issues, a more unified legislature could act. Certain policies may not change until there’s a new governor or, failing that, direct votes by the people.

Amy Fried

About Amy Fried

Amy Fried loves Maine's sense of community and the wonderful mix of culture and outdoor recreation. She loves politics in three ways: as an analytical political scientist, a devoted political junkie and a citizen who believes politics matters for people's lives. Fried is Professor of Political Science at the University of Maine. Her views do not reflect those of her employer or any group to which she belongs.