Hello. This is Governor Paul LePage.
Summing up the Maine economy cannot be done in a sound bite or with simple statistics. Rather we can gain a better perspective of our economy by understanding where we've been and where we want to be. What I would like to offer is what I see from Augusta, some of the challenges we face, and how we are addressing them.
Mark Twain made famous the saying, "There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics." Using a statistic to justify a political position or policy is easy. Solving our problems is much harder.
Economics is essentially an analysis of data, so talk about the economy can turn into a battle of statistics. When I talk with economists, they emphasize not one statistic but the trends over time. Our problems were not created in a month or even a year. They go back decades. The repairs will take time; to make these repairs we must challenge the status quo.
Last week it was reported that Maine was one of just six states last year to experience a decline in the size of its economy--measured by Gross Domestic Product, or GDP. Maine was the only state in New England with a decline in 2011.
Taken in isolation, that statistic sounds like we have not been working on solutions. Indeed, politicians and liberal bloggers have used it to advocate against my administration's policies. They have also tried to say that borrowing more money will bring back our economy. However, Washington tried stimulus; it failed to produce results and has increased the massive debt the federal government is leaving for our grandchildren.
When citing Maine's GDP figures, our critics avoid the fact that the final closure of the Brunswick Naval Air Station--which took more than 7,000 people out of the state along with their dollars--was a major factor in our lack of growth. This is a prime example of why Maine cannot depend on money from the federal government to create jobs. Now that the money is gone so are the jobs.
Maine is also the oldest state in the nation with a slowly growing population. This situation, decades in development, hinders our economic and job growth. We cannot grow without workers or consumers.
In the next several years, as baby boomers age and birth rates continue to fall, we will have a loss in population.
Population loss damages communities. Businesses struggle to find workers. Home values drop. Additionally, we have too many retirees taking their wealth elsewhere to places like Florida, Arizona and Nevada. We must acknowledge the fact that our seniors contribute greatly to our local businesses, but only if they stay in Maine. Attempting to stimulate the economy by borrowing will not fix this critical situation. Maine must challenge the status quo and develop new policies that will attract people to live, work and make Maine their life-long home.
Our beautiful state draws tens of thousands of visitors each year. Note, however, that few of them move here, even as communication and transportation systems make it easier for people to work almost anywhere. We must consider why this is and target economic policies to address the fundamental, structural issues that limit our growth.
This problem lies at the heart of what my administration is trying to do: to create an environment in Maine that will attract people. Not just tourists, although we need them, too. But people to stay in Maine and to invest in Maine. That will grow our economy and bring down our unemployment rate.
We have already begun this work. We lowered taxes. We reformed the pension system. We've sent a message that Maine will no longer be a welfare state. We modernized and clarified our worker's compensation and labor laws. We reduced fraud and are making it easier for businesses to comply with the law, but we did not weaken our worker safety net.
Improvements will be gradual. We are shrinking the size of government. Our private sector is growing--but not rapidly enough. We must do more.
This fall, one new initiative will create an identifiable Maine brand. Combined with our other regulatory and legislative efforts, a strong and recognizable image will help attract new businesses and expand existing businesses.
As the campaign season shifts into high gear, the blame game will be in full effect, and as Governor I am tired of the rhetoric. Our state will not move forward if we do not start working as one government. Sitting around supporting the status quo is irresponsible and an approach that has failed our state for the past 40 years. I am committed to making changes that make improves Maine's future growth.
With that said, I encourage you to make the most of another Maine summer and show our visitors the opportunities available to them if they make their vacation permanent.