DATE: 3/16/2004 08:55:00 AM
Why Maine Falls - A recent survey by Strategic Marketing Service shows that Mainers blame foreign trade, outsourcing and tax cuts for job losses and unemployment in the state. The study is a perfect example of why Maine's economy has fallen and will continue to do so for the immediate future. Maine is a victim of its own past success. For decades, paper mills across the state supplied jobs and a steady tax base to towns. In the summer, tourists visited the state and poured millions into the local economies.
As the economic power of the mills grew, so did the unions. Union members demanded more and more pay and benefits, which the mills paid, often at the expense of modernization. The mills were old and any attempts to purchase new machines or improve facilities was met with resistance from the workers - 'if you can afford to buy those new machines, then you can afford...' And so it went. Until one day, those who purchased paper noticed the quality of Maine's paper wasn't as good as that of other states, or other countries. So they stopped buying.
Meanwhile, at the tourist spots, government saw an opportunity. They began raising taxes on summer properties, hotel rooms, restaurants, the interstate and anywhere else they could make a dollar. The nickel-and-diming had an effect. During the recession in the early 90s, people stopped visiting the state.
Bad planning and greed is what has put Maine in its present state. The towns and mills thought the good times would never end. Town selectmen didn't see the need to attract other industries, mill workers didn't see the need for college. Workers didn't help matters much when they began demanding extremely high workman's compensation rates for on the job injuries. The state didn't help when they gave in to the demands.
A business wanting to enter Maine saw the following: indifferent selectmen, high property taxes, high income taxes, high worker's comp rates, high licensing costs, strict environmental regulations, a demanding and highly union-minded workforce and a state with no inclination to help matters by forcing change. Understandably, they took their business elsewhere.
As Maine's economy sagged, those who got an education and could start businesses began to flee the state for places like Boston and elsewhere, where high-paying jobs waited. The population got older, and more demanding of state services. Eventually, it got so bad that people began to see programs such as welfare, Medicare and Medicaid as rights, not helping hands. The strain on state government finances caused more taxes, which led to more taxpayers fleeing the state, with no one entering to make up the difference, and the yet the entitlement-minded continued to demand.
Cut to today. The state has made it even harder for businesses to operate with silly laws such as the no smoking in bars or lounges regulation, medicare has become an advocacy issue instead of a program intended to help those in need and Mainers are too busy blaming foreign trade, outsourcing and tax cuts for their woes. The state and local governments, union bosses and others who caused the problems are among those demanding the heads of those who had nothing to do with creating them.
Years of blaming someone else, demanding more and getting nothing has brought us to the point where the state's citizens are blaming someone else, demanding more and getting nothing.