Maine State Senator Peter Mills

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Friday, August 26, 2005
Candidate Mills proposes state accountability office

By CHUIN-WEI YAP - Staff Writer

Copyright 2005 Blethen Maine Newspapers Inc.

WATERVILLE -- Refining two prongs of his gubernatorial candidacy, state Sen. S. Peter Mills on Thursday suggested creating a governor's office to demand greater accountability across state departments, and remodeling education policy to favor improvements rather than overall performance.

These are expansions on the "12 Steps Toward Accountable Government" that Mills laid out after he announced his Blaine House bid earlier this month.

"My first mission is to do a composite statement on the costs to (run) three levels of government, and think about the whole thing as a system," the Cornville lawyer said at a Kennebec County Republicans meeting in council chambers.

About 30 people showed up at council chambers for the meeting.

The regular meeting was followed by a forum that gave the floor to Mills. His only GOP rival for governor so far, Peter Cianchette of Pittsfield, did not attend but sent a letter read aloud at the meeting by state Rep. Kenneth Fletcher, R-Winslow.

In his speech, 62-year-old Mills -- a Vietnam veteran -- spoke of how he felt 30 years of Democratic domination in the state of Maine had eroded accountability.

Zooming in on the state Department of Health and Human Services, Mills portrayed it as "symptomatic of the moral and management bankruptcy that permeates state government."

"People who work there are not happy," he said. "Their morale is at an all-time low and it's not just because of computers screwing up and the press being down on them."

Mills said part of the reason is that the state pension system favors "people who have hung on ... sometimes mediocre people," and shuts employees from portable benefits like Social Security.

"It affects all of state government like a cancer," he said.

The system must change, starting with new hires, the way the University of Maine in 1966 ditched state pensions for portable benefits, Mills said.

But Mills' central message on Thursday focused on the absence of cost-benefit accountability in state and local governments, which spend 18 percent of the gross state product of $43 billion.

"It's as if General Motors were only looking at Oldsmobile and not at profit-and-loss for the company as a whole," he said.

Under a Mills governorship, transportation officials would have to re-examine if they duplicate road-ditching services with local road commissioners. Prison officials would have to account for recidivist numbers. Accountability reports would land on Mills' table every month.

In an off-the-cuff idea in response to a question about his views about the State Planning Office, Mills suggested a centralized office for accountability be created there. The State Planning Office currently reports directly to the governor, he said.

In education policy, Mills suggested skewing the system away from one that favors school performance to one that rewards based on the scale of improvements.

"If you do standard testing in Cape Elizabeth, those doctors' kids are going to do well," he said. "Then you go north of Route 2, and they don't test well at all. Should you be rewarding Cape Elizabeth and taking away from Town X?

"There's an emerging notion that maybe what we ought to try to measure is the increment, the change, the delta. I think ... a lot of disaffected Democrats would vote for that."

Chuin-Wei Yap -- 861-9253