1. What are your ideas for how you would support and grow state support for small business owners?
First, small businesses and farms are the backbone of the Maine economy, and many are struggling with rising property taxes. I have proposed a Property Tax Relief Plan, which would lower property taxes by 20-‐40% for the average homeowner. A new Small Business and Farm Fairness Adjustment would shield smaller businesses and farms against the small rate increases that could result from the expanded homestead exemption.
Second, we need to have a fair and predictable regulatory environment for small businesses and a Cutler Administration will eliminate or modify regulations that cause unnecessary costs, delays and uncertainties and deter investment in Maine. The Cutler Administration will work to ensure containment of employer costs such as premiums for workers’ compensation safety, and spiking health care costs.
Third, we need to lower energy and electricity costs. A Cutler Administration will establish the Maine Energy Finance Authority within the Finance Authority of Maine to provide low-‐cost capital for 21st century energy projects that promise to make energy more affordable for citizens and businesses. In communities where access to a lower-‐ cost energy source-‐such as natural gas, could transform the region’s economic prospects, MEFA will be able to finance or co-‐finance energy infrastructure improvements that target job growth.
Fourth, we need to revamp infrastructure in the state of Maine. Maine is operating 20th century transportation and communications networks that are not capable of supporting a robust 21st century economy. Maine needs an upgrade! Building enhanced, optical fiber networks will help lift Maine from 50th in business and 49th in broadband speed and will serve as a magnet for talent and resources into Maine.
Fifth, under a Cutler Administration, the Department of Economic Development and the Department of Labor will collaborate to revive and restart the Job Training Initiative launched during the King Administration, cut under Governor Baldacci and eliminated under Governor LePage. This program supports innovative and non-‐routine training for both new hires and current employee that is championed by employers and that leads to workforce expansion as well as retraining of existing workers for new technologies, processes or markets.
Sixth, As set out in our Property Tax Relief plan, the Cutler Administration will commit to an annual increase of $10 million in the state’s promotion budget, to be spent leveraging our competitive strengths through the development and propagation of a strong Maine brand and wider promotion of our state. We need to motivate people to place a higher value on what our small businesses harvest, make and sell.
A strong umbrella brand will allow us to better compete in our region, our nation, and globally for the people, resources and businesses that will sustain our economy.
And finally, we need to align education with economic development. Education holds the key to growing Maine’s economy and generating higher paying jobs. Yet, too many young adults graduate from Maine high schools without the financial resources to take advantage of post-‐secondary skills training or educational opportunities. If we don’t respond, Maine will be left with an increasingly undereducated workforce that will be a poorer and poorer match for the nation’s burgeoning talent economy. To fix this, we need to expand educational opportunities and lower the cost of higher education. I have proposed “Pay it forward, pay it back”-‐a model for tuition-‐free post-‐secondary education and skills training that retains our state’s high school graduates and prepares them for the jobs of the 21st century economy.
2. Would you use tax credits to create job opportunities in Maine? And, if so, how would you use them? How would you determine which types of businesses would receive them?
Tax incentives, including tax credits, have their place when used properly with responsible and credit-‐worthy businesses, but we must make sure that we don’t give away the store to any more companies like Cate Street Capital.
Maine spends over a billion dollars every year on tax breaks, deductions and credits, increasing the burden on all taxpayers on a dollar-‐for-‐dollar basis, meaning that tax rates are higher for everyone else. Many of these tax breaks have been on autopilot for years, never reviewed to see whether they still make sense and are a good investment. As governor, my administration will evaluate the effectiveness of “tax expenditures” like the Pine Tree Development Zones (PTZs) put in place under Governor Baldacci.
A report released in January evaluating Maine’s economic development incentive programs showed PTZs are very costly, with a negative return of -‐22.4%, and noted much higher rates of return for other programs run by the Maine Technology Institute and the Finance Authority of Maine. Maine should be investing in programs that yield the highest financial rewards for Maine people, especially in terms of jobs and avoided costs, and that’s how these investments should be evaluated.
3. What are your thoughts about leveling the playing field between Maine’s local businesses and national chains and online retailers? How would you do so?
We can level the playing field with national chains by supporting local businesses and increasing demand for Maine products through the development of a recognizable and consistent umbrella brand that builds on the unique qualities associated with our state and motivates people to place a higher value on what Maine’s local businesses make and sell. The Maine brand is one of our most value shared public assets, but we have not invested in it sufficiently or developed it adequately. To leverage our competitive strengths and develop a strong Maine brand, the Cutler Administration will commit an annual increase of $10 million in the state’s promotion budget. Furthermore, a Cutler Administration will convene the Maine Brand Council that will provide our state with input and recommendations to meet our goals and become responsible stewards of the Maine brand.
To level the playing field with online retail stores, I have proposed, within my Property Tax Relief Plan, a restructuring of Maine’s tax system to include collecting sales tax for online purchases by joining with other states in the streamlined tax compact. The Plan estimates that this would increase Maine’s annual revenue by $20 million.
A Cutler Administration will also encourage state and other public institutions (including public schools and hospitals) to buy more local food and other Maine products wherever they can. As part of Eliot’s commitment to review Maine’s regulations and rules, the Cutler Administration will identify those that get in the way of supporting our local businesses and then take corrective measures.
4. What industries and business sectors do you see as valuable to the statewide economy?
We need to invest in and leverage our competitive advantages in a number of industries including agriculture, tourism and the creative economy.
A big part of a plan for Maine should be helping the Maine tourism industry derive a better return from Maine’s extraordinary tourism assets. As with the rest of our natural resources economy, tourism is an export business and deriving higher value from exports of the Maine experience will require building the Maine brand; developing higher value products that make better, more year-‐round use of our assets; and broadening the markets from which we draw our visitors. Dramatic increases in year-‐ round, destination and cultural tourism would fuel not only annual increases in the volume of tourists but also increases in the amounts of spending per tourist visit and with increases in tourist spending will come better-‐paying jobs in Maine’s tourism economy.
Maine is about to hit $800 million in lodging revenue for the first time and a combined $3 billion in meals and lodging. Those are impressive numbers, but we still have lots of room to grow.
We need to invest in another key to Maine’s future growth-‐-‐the creative economy. Maine’s unique quality of place also has much to do with who we are – the creative workforce that produces our unique artistic, manufactured, technological, agricultural, and aquatic products. Maine workers are known to be skilled, innovative, creative and adept at meeting manufacturing challenges. Over the last decade, a multitude of studies and papers generated by both public and private institutions have explored the creative economy in Maine with the aim of understanding the nature, impact and growth potential for arts, entertainment, recreation and technology, and how to foster that growth as a focus of state policy. It’s time to take the best of those studies’ recommendations off the shelf and to make them part of a serious and focused plan to build Maine’s creative economy.
Agriculture is another industry that offers a compelling picture of a sector of the Maine economy. Our challenge is to marshal our natural and human resources – our competitive advantages –and leverage them into new jobs and a growing economy that can sustain Maine’s agricultural future. Acreage under cultivation in Maine is slowly growing again, generating jobs and incomes, but we are not adequately supporting our current farms that are struggling to make ends meet and agriculture is not growing nearly as rapidly as it could if Maine were following a strategy to encourage it and put in place the right policies to make it happen. As part of my plan to make Maine the food-‐ basket of New England, I will work to improve the bottom line of our agricultural enterprises, recruit young farmers, introduce high school students to agricultural and food sciences, invest in infrastructure, reduce energy costs, ensure common sense regulations, grow demand and seek strategic markets for Maine-‐grown products.
5. What are your thoughts on raising the minimum wage?
I support an increase in the minimum wage, both at the state and federal level. Had it come to my desk, I would have signed LD 611, the bill that raised the minimum wage from $7.50 an hour to $9.00 an hour by 2016 in Maine. The minimum wage right now is not a living wage and it’s too far below a living wage. Raising the minimum wage ought to be a part of a comprehensive strategy to improve the opportunities for all Maine workers.
6. What are your thoughts on Medicaid expansion and ACA provisions as they pertain to small businesses?
If we want to reduce the costs of doing business and grow Maine’s economy, we need a healthy work force. With universal access to essential health care services, Maine can muscle down our health care costs and become a competitive place to live and work.
As governor, I will expand Medicaid coverage to the 70,000 Mainers that were restricted access under the LePage administration.
I believe that all Maine people are entitled to essential health care and a medical home-‐ first because it is the right, fair, and morally responsible thing to do, and second because it is the financially and economically smart thing to do.
Governor LePage made a costly mistake by opting out of Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act and denying coverage to 70,000 vulnerable Mainers.
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