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Drew Gattine is chair of the Maine Democratic Party.
In a recent Bangor Daily News column, Demi Kouzounas, my counterpart at the Maine Republican Party, took aim at Gov. Janet Mills, criticizing her administration’s economic policies when it comes to jobs in Maine. She repeatedly bemoaned that Maine’s COVID-19 pandemic job recovery ranked 33rd in the nation.
I served in the Legislature for eight years, six of them under Gov. Paul LePage, as we recovered from the recession of 2008. And the truth is that LePage and his administration performed worse when it came to recovering Maine jobs after a recession. In fact, during the first three years of the LePage administration Maine ranked 49th in job growth as measured by the percent of jobs recovered from the previous recession.
Time and again when LePage had a chance to advance policies that could grow Maine jobs, he failed to do so. By refusing to accept hundreds of millions of dollars in federal funds annually to increase access to health care for tens of thousands of Mainers, LePage left more than 4,000 jobs on the table. Between 2011 and 2017, LePage’s administration forfeited close to $1 billion in federal resources that could have helped families and communities thrive and rippled through Maine’s economy aiding job growth.
Ten years after the Great Recession began in 2007, Maine had just barely recovered all the jobs lost while our state’s GDP, a measure of economic activity, was still 1 percent below where it had been before the recession. Maine was one of only five states that had not achieved positive net growth 10 years after the recession started. By contrast, U.S. GDP grew by 13 percent and New England’s by 8 percent during the same time period. Under LePage, Maine consistently ranked one of the worst in New England.
For rural Maine, the situation was even worse. From 2006 to 2013, rural Maine experienced seven years of negative economic growth, exceeding the period of negative growth experienced during the Great Depression by three years.
LePage’s decisions not only undermined jobs as evidenced by Maine’s back of the pack performance in job growth during his tenure, they also hurt Maine in other ways. By refusing resources to help feed hungry families and children and help them meet basic needs in the wake of the worst recession in almost 80 years, LePage increased hardship and delayed recovery. Federal funds that could have been used to assist Mainers addicted to prescription painkillers and other opioids, to provide treatment and counseling to adolescents and young adults diagnosed with mental illness, or to provide additional supports to patients with Alzheimer’s and their caregivers were similarly turned away. There are so many other troubling examples like these documented by the Maine Center for Economic Policy in its 2017 report “Lost Federal Funds: Lost Opportunities for Maine.”
LePage could have positioned Maine to face the challenges wrought by the COVID pandemic. Instead, he did the opposite. His economic policies put Maine further behind relative to other states. His gutting of Maine’s public health infrastructure made us more vulnerable. His tax policies jeopardized needed investment in Maine’s schools and communities.
So while my counterpart is criticizing Maine’s job recovery under Mills, Maine people should know we ranked 49th — almost last in the nation — on a similar measure under LePage. Not only is Mills performing better in relative terms on job recovery than her predecessor, she has done so while overcoming the substantial headwinds he created.
Further, through her Maine Jobs and Recovery Plan, through her historic investments in education, through restoring municipal revenue sharing and providing property tax relief, through expanding broadband and so much more, Mills is positioning Maine well for future investment and growth.
If the Maine GOP finds 33rd “unacceptable,” then it probably doesn’t like being 49th much better. Let’s not go back to that.