Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mike Michaud’s plan for growing Maine’s economy calls for raising the state’s minimum wage, conserving more land and spending $36 million in state funds to establish new business, energy and education programs.
The plan was immediately panned by U.S. Rep. Michaud’s rivals in the race, who questioned his record on job creation and described his policies as “big government.”
Michaud outlined the plan Wednesday morning at the Rosemont Market and Bakery on Commercial Street in Portland. He released a 33-page business and investment plan, titled “Maine Made,” that proposes building on Maine’s food, tourism and energy industries by investing in and promoting six areas: small businesses, workers, farms, fisheries, renewable energy, and building a stronger community.
“This is the only plan you’ll hear that includes concrete ideas and proposals that we can start implementing on day one,” Michaud said.
He also said the plan is intended to launch a debate over the future of the economy. “This is the beginning, not the end, of the dialogue,” he said.
The plan, estimated to cost $36 million in the first year, calls for an increase in the state’s minimum wage from $7.50 to $9 an hour.
The campaign of Gov. Paul LePage issued a prepared statement even before Michaud’s announcement, saying that under the governor’s watch, 13,000 new jobs have been created, the state is enjoying its lowest unemployment rate since 2008, and reports from a handful of national media outlets have praised Maine’s economic growth.
The statement by LePage consultant Brent Littlefield also warned against what he called Michaud’s deliberately inaccurate statements on the economy in the past.
“Let’s make one thing clear,” Littlefield said in the statement. “Michael Michaud has not created a single job in his over 30 years of collecting a government paycheck.”
Independent Eliot Cutler’s campaign said in a prepared statement that Michaud’s plan echoes themes that Cutler detailed in a book he wrote last year, such as “leveraging Maine’s competitive advantages, branding and tourism and growing agriculture.” At the same time, the Cutler campaign called Michaud’s plan “a typical Washington, D.C., big-government, big-spending approach.”
While the campaign statement appears to simultaneously take credit for Michaud’s economic policy and criticize it, Cutler’s campaign manager, Ted O’Meara, said the two sides differ in how they would achieve the shared goals, because Michaud is proposing new programs and new spending.
But Michaud’s spokeswoman, Lizzy Reinholt, said the plan would be funded within the current budget.
O’Meara could not offer specifics on how Cutler would implement or fund the ideas in his book. “We will be breaking down pieces of this going forward. There will be a lot more to come,” he said.
Michaud’s plan calls for doubling small-business exports by connecting them to new markets. That would be done by building a Maine Domestic Trade Center and a 10-year, pro-business infrastructure investment plan through a so-called Compact for Small Businesses.
The domestic trade center would be modeled after the Maine International Trade Center. It is estimated to cost $200,000 a year in salaries alone. But Michaud estimated that doubling business exports over the next decade could lead to 34,000 new jobs and add $2.6 billion to Maine’s economy.
The Compact for Small Businesses would look to free up $1.3 million a year in the state’s general fund for grants for small business development, energy efficiency and weatherization, roads and bridges, aging in place, land conservation and startup businesses.
“We can have economic growth and a clean environment at the same time,” Michaud said. “We can have thriving businesses and well-paid employees.”
The plan also calls for a more than $18 million annual investment to increase Maine’s college graduation rate. Most of that cost would come from a program that would make the sophomore year in Maine universities free. Other investments would establish universal pre-kindergarten, create a grant program for year-round learning at community colleges, and provide tuition guarantees, which would set an annual cap on tuition.
Maine spent $1.3 billion on education in fiscal 2012-13. More than $202 million came from the federal government.
Michaud defended the free sophomore tuition proposal as reasonable, even though the Maine Legislature hasn’t even lived up to its commitment to pay 55 percent of education costs for kindergarten through 12th grade. The sophomore year of college is critical to ensuring that students don’t drop out, Michaud said.
“This plan is definitely affordable,” he said.
Michaud would also like to make Maine the “food basket” of New England by building a private network of local food hubs, conserving farmland and working waterfronts, and by creating a “Maine Institutional Buying Program,” which would look to double the value of local food purchased by schools and governments, as well as food pantries.
The plan envisions doubling income generated through tourism by promoting the state’s brand and continuing to market Maine products to visitors after they return home. The plan also calls for a “Maine Tourism Training Initiative” to increase the professionalism of people in the hospitality industry.
The plan calls for doubling the amount of private investment in renewable energy and energy efficiency, including requiring all new homes to receive an energy rating. It also calls for investing $250,000 to build a “Maine Ocean Energy Center of Excellence” to focus on tidal, offshore wind and wave resources. The plan also seeks to increase solar power and access to natural gas.
To strengthen communities, the plan calls for an increase in the minimum wage, expanded access to health care and increased tax refunds for the middle class.
Randy Billings can be contacted at 791-6346 or at:email@example.comTwitter: @randybillings