I moved back to Maine seven months ago with my family to start a business, and I didn’t know the tax rate. I didn’t need to. State income tax rates were not part of the calculation. I wanted to be in Maine. I missed the woods and water and friendly people who understand what matters. Maine needs many more young people like me if we as a state are going to have a shot at a prosperous future.
The things that made it possible for me to move were knowing that, even if I didn’t start out making a ton of money, I could pay my student loans, afford health insurance and put a roof over my head. Government programs ensured the first two (income-based repayment on my student loans and subsidized health insurance), and family ensured the last.
Without knowing these basics would be taken care of, it might have taken years to save enough money to feel safe striking out and starting fresh in Maine. With the passage of time, I might have never managed the move at all. There are no doubt others who would come here — who think it would be great to be here if only they could manage it — if they felt there were some basic help to get started.
Maine can never compete on taxes. With so much land and so few people, basic services from infrastructure to police to schools to garbage collection are going to be more expensive than other places. Competing on taxes is a game we’re bound to lose. Besides, we need to be smart, strategic and have a plan.
We need to sell what Maine has: community, a brand dripping with authenticity, a strong education system and natural beauty for days. But we need to sweeten the deal for the young professionals and young families we sorely need. We can do it by helping on the most pressing issues facing my generation: health insurance, student loans and housing. This would be a key, short-term investment that would pay dividends for decades.
Years ago, Alaska knew it had a problem. It didn’t have enough doctors to serve its people, so it made a deal with students. Alaska paid for their medical school, and the doctors worked a stint in Alaska. What Maine lacks now, especially outside of Portland, are young families (hence the “oldest population in the nation”).
We should make a deal with young entrepreneurs and skilled workers: come to Maine, stay in Maine, start a business or bring skills to targeted industries, and we’ll help with your student loans and medical insurance and give you an opportunity at “the way life should be.” In exchange for offering people a leg up, we’ll get new businesses (in the age of the Internet you can work anywhere, so why work anywhere else?), skilled workers and young families in the tax base, bolstering school populations and bringing new life and innovation to the state.
Let’s step out of the box and invest in a brighter future.
John Steed is an attorney in Stonington.