On the main streets and the side streets, potholes are everywhere, competing with frost heaves for our attention. If we don’t pay heed, don’t look at the holes’ width, texture and — most of all for our cars’ tires and suspension — depth, damage will be done. And then we’ll pay the price, benefiting only the repair shops.
Maine winters always sprout potholes, but this year’s crop is fertilized by politics. Road repairs slowed the last few years and won’t be ramping up this summer.
Despite very low interest rates for state borrowing and Mainers’ approval to spend the money, Gov. Paul LePage has decided against issuing bonds. This reverses LePage’s declaration in his 2014 State of the State address that $2 billion in coming construction would support 25,000 jobs in “highway and bridge projects” plus even more for rail, ports, buses and ferries.
LePage proclaimed, “Industry needs infrastructure to move goods and services at the speed of business.” But that speed will drop to a crawl. Those thousands of jobs won’t be created and won’t ripple through Maine’s economy.
So as we slow down to avoid the potholes, job creation will stall some more.
This latest from the Blaine House further undermines the 2010 campaign image of LePage as a pragmatic businessman. While the administration has done a good job helping businesses acquire permits and understand regulations, it hasn’t been effective in managing government programs and handling contracts.
An expert on toxic chemicals was transferred from oversight to a clerical position, Riverview Psychiatric Center lost $20 million in federal money, a contract with an incompetent Connecticut company for MaineCare rides was botched due to the lack of a performance bond, and the federal government is investigating the Center for Disease Prevention for document shredding.
Last year the governor wouldn’t meet with legislators because he was miffed with them, told agency staff not to answer inquiries, and threatened to move out of the State House. Bothered that the Legislature rejected his budget ideas, LePage refused to present a supplemental budget.
Republican moderates are interested in developing a compromise with Democrats for Medicaid expansion, an effort key business and medical groups support. Yet LePage has said no to negotiation.
Nor has collaboration taken place outside of Maine. Just days ago, the governor left the annual gathering of the National Governors Association before the meetings with the president and vice-president.
The LePage approach is very different from Mike Michaud’s record in Maine. Michaud worked closely with now-GOP party chair Rick Bennett after the 2000 election left the state Senate evenly split among Democrats and Republicans. They developed a power-sharing arrangement and took turns serving as Senate president. They even decided by flipping a coin which party’s members would first chair committees. Within the body, committee leaders from both parties met together to plan, rather than dividing into party caucuses.
Michaud’s new economic plan presents quite the contrast to LePage’s approach, starting with an introduction emphasizing the need to have a conversation about policy ideas.
Michaud’s plan would fill the potholes but would also focus on other holes in Mainers’ economic, health care, energy, education and training systems.
To boost jobs, Michaud’s plan avoids ideologically generated, nationally packaged proposals in favor of policies that take account of Maine’s unique situation and strengths.
Michaud is known to be a moderate in Congress, and his plan bears that stamp, along with boldness.
Take Michaud’s call for a long-term approach, “a compact with small businesses,” to be developed by Mainers in business and other sectors. The rationale is that, “Companies in Maine deserve predictability and they should know that the state has a long-term commitment to investments to help the economy grow that is based on a coherent strategy, not the political whims of the day.”
Crafting this plan would take leadership that guides but is open to listening and conversation. In our polarized age, it’s a daring goal.
Yet Michaud could craft consensus. Maine is still pragmatic and civil, with bipartisan negotiations on Medicaid expansion now proceeding. Those involved realize that when a loved one is lost, it leaves a hole that can’t be filled with heavy equipment and shovels, but expanded coverage saves lives and improves health. They show that, whatever the bumps in the road, we can advance together.