1. Sharpen Human Services
Human services - not roads or schools - is the dominant role of state government. Much of the work is performed by private contractors, often with no clear targets for results, assessment of work, or consequences for poor performance. The folks who need state services and the folks who pay for them both deserve a management team that insists on performance and efficiency.
2. Boost School Results
The state's second-biggest role is funding K-12 education. Here, we test and publish standards but don't reward teachers for producing results, or impose consequences on students who do less than their best. We need more incentives and consequences, better measurements and timely remediation -- and a longer school day and year to allow for daily physical exercise, supervised homework, and professional development among teachers.
3. Modernize Pensions
Most Americans will work in at least four or five different fields before retirement. Yet Maine's pension plans for teachers and state employees are still cemented to the idea of lifetime employment. They penalize people who leave and reenter public service. We need to move to a system that will give new hires portable pensions that supplement Social Security with defined benefits. This will also avoid the federal tax code's government-pension offset and "windfall elimination," which penalize many of Maine's public retirees.
4. Curb the Debt Addiction
Besides its bonded - and increasingly low-rated - debt, Maine faces two huge unfunded costs: $3 billion for future pension payments and $1.2 billion for retiree health benefits. To fund these benefits for work already performed, every man, woman and child in the state would have to drop $3230 into an investment fund now.
Rather than address this chasm of unfunded obligations, the current administration in Augusta made matters worse by expanding the state's guarantee for retiree insurance while emptying a modest reserve account created under Governor King. Until we have funded our binding promises to state employees and teachers, the budget motto for new capital projects must be, "Pay as you go or do without."
5. Ask Taxpayers' Opinion
Instead of offering citizens more buffets of borrowing, why not pose referendum questions to let them decide on:Setting an acceptable balance between road improvements and gas taxes;Broadening the sales tax to lower income and property taxes; andGranting flexibility to towns to set homestead exemptions and alternatives to the property tax.
6. Rationalize Medicaid|
Making anything "free" boosts demand and diminishes responsibility. Federal law permits higher premiums and co-pays than Maine presently charges. Since Maine keeps raising Medicaid eligibility well above the poverty level, many clients ought to be asked to make modest contributions toward the cost of their care. And where the law permits, Maine should limit non-essential benefits, particularly for patients who refuse to manage their own health or who abuse the program.
7. Bolster Health Care
Create a high-risk pool with disease management features to replace Dirigo Health and revive the competitive insurance market. Create a statewide, secure, electronic medical-information system for patients and providers. Extend the reach of public health with, for example:
More school-based health clinics;
Low-cost or free dental clinics;
Expanded Rural Health Centers and other medical facilities with sliding-scale fees;
More use of regional hospitals to improve the health of our majority-rural population;
Taxes or fees to discourage unhealthy behavior that costs us money to repair.
8. Reform State Taxes
Stop granting arbitrary political favors through the tax code to businesses that are here today and gone tomorrow. Adopt consistent policies that businesses can rely on. Reinforce broad support for Maine's traditional sources of economic strength: agriculture, fishing, tourism, forest products, manufacturing, and guided sports.
9. Reduce Duplicate Services
Modern roads and technology allow police, fire and other services to reach far beyond the colonial-era borders of our towns. We need to identify areas where service consolidation could improve public safety while cutting expense.
10. Cut School Overhead Costs
Maine needs small schools. It doesn't need 288 school units and 211 separate teacher contracts. Consolidating administrative functions into, say, one district for each of Maine's 31 labor market areas would be fair and cost effective while preserving the town and neighborhood schools that are a focus of community identity.
11. Care for Infrastructure
More than 1000 state bridges are over 50 years old. Our typical high school has seen 40 graduations. Road deterioration outruns repair crews. We need a program of upkeep and replacement, not baling wire patches and expensive emergency repairs to failing systems.
12. Practice Self-Reliance
Maine gets short shrift on federal funds for Medicare, matching rates for Medicaid, and defense spending. Relying on miraculous flows of federal money is delusional.