Analysis: Gov. Janet Mills’ economic plan ignores most of her campaign promises

Governor Janet Mills plan to grow Maine’s economy when she was campaigning for Governor has largely been abandoned in her first year as Governor and in her ten-year economic plan.

AUGUSTA – On the campaign trail in 2018, Attorney General Janet Mills promised if she were elected Governor, she would make Maine’s roads and bridges a priority, create broadband internet expansion districts and create a state entity dedicated to growing Maine’s skilled workforce and financing for Maine’s businesses. In Governor Mills’ recently released ten-year economic plan for Maine, these promises and more appear to be forgotten.

The broken promise from Mills’ campaign for Governor that is most likely to be noticed by the average Mainer is the promise Mills made to upgrade the quality of Maine’s roads and bridges. On the campaign trail, Mills promised a three-month review of all state infrastructure followed by prioritized investments.

Within five months of taking office, however, instead of review and prioritization of Maine’s roads and bridges with an eye on upgrades, the newly minted Governor was canceling or pausing more than a dozen Maine DOT construction projects, saying the cost was too high. In fact, despite increasing state spending overall by about 10%, Mills’ first two-year state budget provided no new funding for infrastructure. Rather than prioritize transportation projects, Mills’ initial budget proposal would have cut $15 million from Maine’s transportation capital funding.

Rather than prioritize Maine’s roads and bridges, Mills insisted on pushing the legislature to borrow $105 million during a special legislative session to provide some stopgap funding for Maine roads. That funding will need to be repaid by taxpayers with interest.

Janet Mills’ economic plan on the campaign trail promised a “Maine Growth Authority” which she billed as a “one stop shop” for Maine Small Businesses to work with “private sector-style teams” to help find financing, train workers and navigate regulatory issues for small businesses.

The newly released ten-year economic plan from Mills’ office makes no mention of the Maine Growth Authority.

Along with the lack of the promised growth authority to assist small businesses, Mills also appears poised to ignore her campaign promise to create a new energy authority to create a new energy commissioner to focus in ensuring quality of service for Maine’s utilities and lowering electricity rates for Mainers.

The position of energy commissioner was laid out on page two of Mills’ campaign economic plan but is not mentioned anywhere in her official ten-year plan.

Similarly, on the campaign trail, Mills promised “broadband expansion districts” to help Maine communities increase access to broadband internet. Again, broadband expansion districts are not mentioned in the official ten-year plan.

In fact, only one item Janet Mills’ listed in her “Laying the Foundation for Growth” economic development plan during the campaign has been brought forward – the expansion of Medicaid.

While a government-funded entitlement program may not fit the bill for what the average Mainer sees as an economic growth policy, Mills’ insists that expanding Medicaid will play a major role in growing Maine’s economy. On that issue, Mills took immediate action and began the process of expanding Medicaid after taking office.

Mills and Democrats said 70,000 Mainer “desperately” needed the Medicaid expansion, only about 42,000 Mainers have enrolled at the end of the first year of expansion. Recent reports indicate that Maine expects the state’s uninsured rate to drop slightly, but that enrollments through the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) private insurance exchanges are down during the first year of Maine’s Medicaid expansion. That could indicate that some Mainers are ditching their heavily subsidized private insurance in favor of Medicaid, which requires no premiums or deductibles be paid.

That type of shift, which did occur during Maine’s Dirigo Health experiment under Gov. John Baldacci, would directly undercut claims by supporters of Obamacare about the benefits of the ACA exchanges.

In the final analysis, Governor Janet Mills’ ten-year economic plan and her first year in office demonstrate a failure to deliver on four of the five key policies she said Maine needed to lay the “Foundation for Growth” in coming years.

The jury is still out on the one policy (Medicaid Expansion) she has delivered on, and how it will impact Maine’s economy in the coming decade.  

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