None of Maine’s four candidates for governor was surprised by the state’s slow economic growth in the first three months of the year – the state ranked 46th in GDP for the quarter.

“We’ve been underperforming for a long time,” said Alan Caron, an independent.

Caron said he would like to change that by shifting the focus and state aid away from declining industries, such as papermaking, and shift it to smaller businesses, which hold the promise of more jobs. He said small manufacturing is one such economic sector, but some traditional trades, such as farming, are on the upswing, too.

Caron said he’d like to see job training programs expanded, and that Maine’s population could grow if there is a program that would forgive two years of college costs if graduates stay in Maine after college.

“It’s a signal to young people across the country that Maine is a place that would love to have them,” he said.

Like Caron, independent candidate Terry Hayes said Maine’s economy tends to lag the national numbers. That means the slow growth in GDP at the outset of the year “is not a surprise, but it needs to be improved,” she said.

Hayes sees two major items that need to be addressed and likely would be on her desk if she becomes governor in January.

The first is tax conformity, which means aligning Maine’s tax structure with the changes made in federal tax code during an overhaul adopted by Congress late last year. Without making changes, many Maine businesses may end up with a higher tax bill than their competitors in other states.

And, she said, the state needs to expand Medicaid in compliance with a 2016 referendum vote.

Hayes said that if expansion is implemented “cautiously,” it could benefit those who need coverage while also boosting the state’s economy, because implementing the program would also release millions of dollars in federal aid to Maine.

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In a prepared statement, Republican Shawn Moody said “the best way for someone to succeed is to have a great-paying job.”

Moody, who runs a chain of auto-body repair businesses, said he is the only candidate in the race “with over 40 years of executive experience.”

“I know we must continue to reduce red tape, lower taxes and create an environment where our small businesses can thrive,” he said.

He also called for a workforce with skilled workers, and said he would market Maine to “show young people that we have opportunities here for them to live, raise their families and have a great quality of life.”

Democrat Janet Mills said the GDP report “makes it more clear than ever that we need a new direction for Maine.” Mainers are struggling to make ends meet, even when many work more than one job, said Mills, who also released a statement on the GDP report.

“As governor, I’ll work to lower health care costs, train and educate more skilled workers, and bring broadband internet and cellphone coverage to every part of our state,” Mills said. She said that will attract new businesses and jobs to the state.

Edward D. Murphy can be contacted at 791-6465 or at:

[email protected]

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