When Alan Caron announced his campaign for governor, it reminded me of an important and visionary report, Reinventing Maine Government, commissioned by GrowSmart Maine and issued by Envision Maine in 2010. Alan created GrowSmart, and in 2009 moved on to create Envision Maine, which he led until recently deciding to run for governor.

I enjoyed working with Alan over the years, especially on the Summit on the Rural Maine Economy that I helped Alan organize earlier this year in Bangor, where 350 people gathered to talk about what could be done to rescue rural Maine.

Reinventing Maine Government was a collaborative report that both analyzed Maine’s problems and recommended solutions. Sadly, most of those solutions have been ignored as our state continues to struggle.

Today I’m going to share some of those recommendations with you, hoping they can be resurrected and achieved.

The action plan presents the challenge this way: “Only a stronger economy can allow us to meet our many needs, change the demographic direction of Maine as an aging state, and pull the two Maines together. All of the following recommendations are designed with that purpose in mind: to free up resources for targeted investments in tomorrow’s prosperity.”

Here are the eight recommendations in the action plan.

1. Ending unfunded liabilities — pay our bills on time and stop adding more unsustainable obligations.

2. A smaller, smarter Legislature. Limit the number of bills, shrink the Legislature, and shorten the sessions.

3. A flatter, leaner, more responsive state government. Create a 21st-century government by gradually replacing outdated hierarchical bureaucracy with a flatter and more decentralized structure.

4. Fewer counties that do more. Create eight combined counties professionally run and more representative, to become the regional service delivery provider of the future.

5. Increasing collaboration between towns. Expand and accelerate regional cooperation and, where it makes sense, develop greater regional service delivery.

6. Innovating in public education. Move Maine toward the national average on student-teacher ratios, further consolidate administration, evaluate performance and put all savings into the classroom.

7. A fully coordinated system of higher education. Increase funding while coordinating overlapping systems, eliminating duplication and reducing excessive autonomy.

8. Slowing the climb of health care costs. Emphasize prevention, pay for health not sickness, increase competition and coordinate care.

The plan offers many details about how to achieve these goals as well as a history of each of our major problems. I particularly liked the section titled “The Hard Work” because, yes, all of this is hard work.

In that section you read about the difficulty of making one Maine out of two. The prosperous Maine is the southern section of our state with a strong and diverse economy. The other Maine, the rural Maine where many of us “want to live,” is a place where for a half-century or more the economy has been flat. Where for working families and the less educated, it has actually grown worse.

It is the Maine where agriculture and fishing jobs have succumbed to new technologies, new market demands and competition from overseas. Some of the areas in this Maine are rife with hardship and hopelessness. Here, stress and anger are on the rise, dropout rates and substance abuse are high, and good jobs and optimism are scarce.

Since this report was produced in 2010 this situation has only gotten worse. The report includes the 10 myths that hold us back, some guiding principles for reinventing government, and a very interesting analysis of state government spending. “If Maine spending on government were at the national and rural state average, we would save over $1 billion a year,” notes the report.

We learned in that section “as a percentage of our income we spend about 13 percent more on state and local government than the national average and 16 percent more than other rural states, making us the six highest spender in the nation in that category. Unfortunately that doesn’t mean that we get better results. In some cases we simply spend more and get less.”

In the section titled “The Three Great Ticking Time Bombs” the report explores our aging state. At that time Maine spent 24 percent more per person on health care than the U.S. average.

There’s a very good chapter on the inefficient structures of our state government and another on the unwieldy and overextended Legislature. “Maine ranks 40th in total population in the country but our legislature is the nation’s 10th largest. The cost of the legislature relative to income is 132 percent higher than the U.S. average and 68 percent higher than average of similarly rural states.” I really like the recommendations for modernizing the Legislature so that it can be more effective and efficient.

If you google “Reinventing Maine Government” you’ll find the report. It is definitely worth reading.

George Smith can be reached at 34 Blake Hill Road, Mount Vernon 04352, or [email protected]. Read more of Smith’s writings at www.georgesmithmaine.com.

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