Governor John E. Baldacci, January 8, 2003
Madam President, Mr. Speaker, Members of the Legislature, Governor Curtis, Governor Brennan, distinguished guests, Chief Saufley and representatives of the court.
More than 200 years ago, when Thomas Jefferson delivered his first inaugural address, he came before the American people and said, “the task is above my talents.” He approached it, he said, “with those anxious and awful premonitions which the greatness of the charge and the weakness of my powers so justly inspire.”
I never thought I would say this, but I finally have something in common with Thomas Jefferson.
Tonight, I stand before the people of Maine, grateful for the faith you’ve shown in me, humbled by the enormous task before us, and determined not only to serve the people of Maine but to help move our state toward greatness.
Eight years ago when Governor King was standing here, there was no such thing as e-mail in state government. Surfing the web was not yet part of our lexicon. And you could actually go to the movies or enjoy a meal at a restaurant without someone’s cell phone going off. Those were the days.
But now, one of the fastest growing private companies in the country, ATX, is employing more than 200 people to make computer software for 40,000 customers in the accounting industry worldwide. Their headquarters isn’t in Silicon Valley; it’s in Aroostook County on Sweden Street in downtown Caribou.
Today, you can buy a hunting license, pay a parking ticket and find out what your state representative is up to without ever leaving your home, thanks to high-speed internet access.
And today, we have laptop computers in Maine classrooms, unlocking the imaginations of thousands of school children and earning Maine prominence and prestige around the world.
For eight years, Governor King’s dedication, inspiration and loyal service to Maine and its people, have really made a difference. He and Mary have extended every courtesy to Karen, Jack and I. Please join me in thanking Gov. Angus King, Mary and his family.
As Jefferson suggested, the greatness of the charge is almost overwhelming. Despite the progress we have made, Maine faces many challenges.
Our tax system is out of date and out of line with the meager incomes of so many Maine people.
State spending is out of line with state revenues creating a billion dollar deficit. This huge imbalance requires immediate and serious attention.
The high cost of health care coverage has become a crushing burden, creating a drag on our economy, threatening businesses small and large and leaving many families without adequate protection from a catastrophic illness or accident.
Against this backdrop, young people are going out-of-state, abandoning their place of birth for opportunities elsewhere, taking their talents, their hopes and their dreams with them and leaving Maine a graying state sapped of the vitality, the spirit and entrepreneur abilities that the ambitions of youth provide.
All of this must change.
Just as it has during the past eight years, the pace of technology will continue to move swiftly forward in the years ahead, providing a solid foundation for economic growth. But in the next four years, the true pace of progress will be measured by the quality of life we can help provide Maine people.
It will be measured by increasing incomes; more and better jobs; affordable health care; more high school graduates going on to college; and a continued respect for the environment.
It will be measured by whether we’ve given Maine people a reason to have hope. Our state can become a leader in providing opportunities in jobs, business, and health while preserving and protecting our natural resources.
As I traveled around this state during the campaign, something occurred to me that probably should be obvious but so many of us forget: earning a living in Maine is not easy.
For a large number of people, perhaps the majority, their livelihoods are closely tied to our natural resources – our forests, the ocean, our farmland. The fortunes of tourism, the ski and snowmobile industries rise and fall on the natural forces of the weather, something the government will never be able influence. Even the lawyer walking down Exchange Street should probably stop to realize that one out of every four dollars in his pocket could be traced to Maine’s natural resource-based industries. Living off the land is still very much alive here in Maine, and always will be. But in the next century, more and more of our workers will have to find jobs in a new economy that will require new and different skills. For many, this will be a major change, but if Maine is to be successful, it’s a change we must embrace.
It’s true that regional differences abound. They always have and always will. We hear about the two Maines, but there are actually many Maines – north and south; east and west; rural and urban; coastal and inland, Democrat and Republican, Green and Independent.
But it’s our similarities, not our differences, that define us. Nearly all of us came here as immigrants. We all want good schools, safe communities, and a promising future for our children and their children.
The set of values we share are the same, whether you live in Kittery or Madawaska, Calais or Fort Kent, Lewiston or Lubec. The values of family and community, with tolerance and neighborliness, with hard work and respect for nature, these are universal throughout Maine.
These qualities and values are tested from time to time, and they will be in just the next few days. I want to make it very clear, in case there is any question: Maine is a lot of things, but it is not nor will it ever be a haven or a headquarters for hate groups and racist organizations. These groups do not reflect the principles and values of Maine, and I urge all Mainers to firmly embrace diversity and tolerance and oppose bigotry and hatred.
There is something else that every one of us has in common that helps define who we are: we live in Maine because we choose to live in Maine. We could live anywhere, but who would want to?
We live in Maine despite the hardships, despite the challenges, despite the burdens, despite the weather. We’re hardscrabble people, resilient, resourceful. And that is our strength.
A billion dollar deficit IS a big problem, but it’s nothing compared to the talents, the ingenuity and the energy of a million Maine people.
For those of us in public life, the challenge we face is making a real difference in the lives of those million Maine people.
We tend to think of government as stately buildings, legislative sessions, programs and policies. In Augusta and in Washington we get so wrapped up in arcane debates, bitter feuds and negative campaigns, and forget that so much of it means so little to so many.
The task ahead of us is to show Maine people that we’re with them, that we can all work together – Democrats, Republicans, Greens and Independents – to reach out to those people working in the woods, on the oceans, on our farms and make state government a positive, relevant force. Whether you work in a paper mill, own your own business, stay at home to care for your children, or are just getting ready to go on to college, state government can touch and improve your lives.
Government will never solve all of our problems. It’s true we can’t do everything. But we can’t afford to do nothing.
And it’s more than just the ups and downs of business, the economy, profit and loss, numbers on a spreadsheet. It’s people. It’s families. It’s community.
Lowering the tax burden is an important goal, sure, but so is lifting the spirits of Maine people.
Just as it is important to ask ourselves “Can we compete,” it is equally important to ask, “Can we dream?” So, tonight, let us begin.
Our goal, starting right now, is to balance the state budget and grow our economy. That’s my economic plan.
I’m not going to stand here and say that it’s going to be easy to solve the state’s budget problems. The size and severity of the budget deficit defies a simple and painless solution. A tax increase is definitely not the answer, but neither is a big-time gambling casino. Both of these are shortsighted, short-term remedies that in the end will only make our problems worse.
We will solve the budget crisis, and I have asked Maine people to log on to our website and give us their ideas. In the next few weeks, I intend to submit a plan to deal with Maine’s fiscal problems and balance the state budget without a tax increase.
But we first need to look at our budget situation another way. It is an enormous problem, but it’s also an enormous opportunity.
What the situation tells us is that we have to change. When it comes to state spending, it can no longer be business as usual. The boom-and-bust cycles of state spending and growth have been a roller coaster ride, and it’s time to get off.
It requires an overall change in state government, how it’s organized, how it delivers services, and how it spends your money. We need to be sure that maximum resources are devoted to actual service and not multiple layers of bureaucracy. We need to be sure that the people most in need of service get it. And, we need to be sure that the people who actually deliver the service, state workers and community organizations, are supported.
Progress has been made toward making government more effective and more efficient. Now, those efforts must intensify. In my Administration silos between state agencies will come down, and common sense will prevail. One person or one family shouldn’t have to deal with five case managers to get help from one state agency.
As a first step, I will file legislation to merge the Department of Human Services and the Department of Behavioral and Developmental Services into one state agency with a Division of Children and Families. This will make it easier for people to obtain service through a “one stop” approach. It will reduce administration overload on community organizations as they deal with multiple bureaucracies to serve the same client. And, it will increase accountability both at the state and local level.
To be successful in this, we will reach out in partnership to the non-profit organizations that are working in many important areas. Whether in disability, domestic abuse, child abuse and neglect, housing or mental health, we value your partnership and your suggestions as we work together to leverage new resources and opportunities.
I want this merger to serve as a model for all state agencies. But, we can’t stop there. Our fiscal problems don’t end in Augusta. They effect government at every level – our towns, cities and county governments, our school districts and water districts, our police and fire departments. No one should sit and wait for Augusta alone to solve the state’s tax and budget problems, including the mounting property tax burden, because the solution is right there in your own community. Tonight, I am calling on municipal and county officials, school board members and community leaders to help lead the way out of our budget difficulties. It will require creativity, resolve and leadership, but it can be done.
Take a look at what’s happening in Cumberland County. Five towns have begun discussions over forming a joint police department, one chief, one dispatch center, fewer police cars, better protection, and a lot less money for property taxpayers. Take a look at what they are doing in Hermon. School students and staff have developed a community internet network called HermonNet that serves not only the schools but businesses and homes in the community, without adding to the tax burden. Take a look at what’s happening in Lewiston and Auburn. The two cities now have more than a dozen intergovernmental agreements to jointly deal with economic development and other issues.
This is as radical a shift in government planning as the decision by Maine to separate from Massachusetts. This is a wholesale reinvention of government. But it’s the kind of thinking we need if we are going to solve, once and for all, Maine’s chronic budgetary problems and offer real relief to property taxpayers.
We need to focus first on the areas of greatest spending. Therefore, I will sign an executive order to create a task force that will devise and implement my plan to produce administrative savings in education funding, at the state, regional and local levels.
The task force will provide incentives in the state budget to redirect resources from administration to instruction. This isn’t about consolidating schools. It is about making more dollars available for the classroom, for our students. We can’t keep going to the property taxpayers year after year to pay for the growing cost of education. We have to find cost savings and efficiencies if we are to continue.
And tonight, I am instructing my cabinet to apply this kind of thinking to all of their operations, to turn their departments upside down in search of efficiencies and ways to consolidate services. If there is a better, more cost efficient way to do business, even if it means eliminating or merging state departments or bureaus, I want to know about it. The goal is not to curtail services; the goal is to deliver services more efficiently. It can be done. It must be done. And we’re going to do it.
By working together, we can solve the state’s current budget crisis. As painful as it will be, we will get through it, and we’ll come out of it stronger than we were with a new structure and a renewed purpose for serving the people of Maine.
But we cannot let the temporary budget troubles divert our attention from the bigger challenge of strengthening Maine’s economy. In the coming weeks, I will be putting forth a detailed economic strategy. It will include “Pine Tree” opportunity zones to spur economic development in areas of Maine that really need it; a doubling of our investment in research and development to support emerging industries like biomedical research at Jackson Lab; one-stop shopping for business and trade information; and a more consolidated, consistent emphasis on regional and international opportunities with the other New England states and the maritime provinces of Canada.
I will also convene a Blaine House Conference on our Natural Resource-based Industries, to discuss and determine their status, their future and ways they can be strengthened as Maine looks to new industries as well.
I’m also proud to announce that my wife, Karen, as part of her duties as Maine’s First Lady, will focus on the critical issues of childhood literacy and nutrition. As a teacher and a dietician, she is particularly well qualified to help raise awareness and address these issues, because we can’t forget that over the long term, education and the skill level of Maine workers and citizens is the most important factor of sustainable economic growth and community health.
While Maine has earned recognition for one of the best K-12 education systems in the nation, our postsecondary performance lags: too many students can’t afford college, the number of our citizens who hold bachelor’s degrees is below the New England average, and the number of Maine high school students going on to college is disappointing, to say the least.
One of the ways we will address this is by transforming the state’s technical colleges into a true Community College System offering a full range of programs and making the best use of all our existing resources, including the University campuses and K-12 schools. To enhance higher education opportunities in Maine, our public higher education systems need to work collaboratively and efficiently. I have discussed this with the Chancellor of the University System and the President of the Technical College System, both of whom share this belief.
And next month, I will join with business and community leaders to announce a new initiative called the Compact for Maine’s Future that will begin to change the expectations, attitudes and aspirations of Maine people about higher education. The Compact for Maine’s Future is a commitment to Maine citizens that we will be among the best educated in the world.
But two areas related to economic development will get my immediate attention.
First, health care. The time for talk is over. It’s time for action. The growing cost of health care is at the root of the state’s financial problems, and is affecting our economy in ways we may not even realize. How many workers won’t get a raise this year because their employer has to pay more for health insurance? How many jobs could be added to our economy if the cost of health care wasn’t so high? We spend over $5 billion a year in health care, but nearly one in ten of us have no health insurance at all. Thousands of Maine people, young and old, are living in fear that a debilitating injury or illness will wipe them out because they don’t have coverage; thousands more are one rate hike away from losing theirs.
Tomorrow, I will sign an Executive Order to establish a Governor’s Office of Health Care Policy and Finance. This office will bring together the human and physical resources now dispersed throughout state government into a strategic, critical alliance to develop a comprehensive health policy and a plan to provide affordable, quality health care for every man, woman and child in the State of Maine.
Maine is not alone in this problem, but we do not have the luxury of time to wait a solution from away. As a state, as a government, we have as much responsibility to protect people’s access to health care as we do to protect them from the dangers of international terrorism, and we must confront the problem with just as much sustained energy and focus.
The Office of Health Care Policy and Finance is not going to get bogged down in endless debates over whether health care is a right or a privilege, or whether we should have a single payer system or something else. Frankly, I’m pretty tired of these debates. What the people of this state need, and deserve, is a solution, a plan that will work and that we can afford. The Office of Health Care Policy and Finance will help me craft such a plan that I can present to the Legislature this year.
Make no mistake, we are in the early stages of a health care financing crisis that will only get worse without strategic action. I can’t promise a miracle. But I do promise to make sure that every possible resource in state government, with help from the private sector, will be devoted to addressing this problem. All Maine people deserve affordable, quality health care. But unless we act now, hard working Mainers, and responsible employers, will continue to struggle to maintain coverage. The sooner we rein-in the high cost of health care, the sooner we can put more Maine people to work in good paying jobs and get our economy moving.
Second, and perhaps most important, I want to address our young people.
According to the most recent census, Maine is losing its youth. Young people between the ages of 20 and 34 are leaving the state in very large numbers: between 1990 and 2000, there was a statewide decline of 22 percent among this population. In some towns, the figure is over 40 percent.
Why is this a concern? In just 20 years if trends continue, Maine will have more people over the age of 65 than under the age of 20. As we spend more and more to care for our elderly citizens, we will have less and less to take care of our schools and roads, the environment, housing and health care. With an aging population, it will be harder and harder to attract industries to Maine if they know they’ll have to find their workers somewhere else.
Consider this: the only reason Microsoft is in Washington State is because that’s where Bill Gates happened to live. How do we know the next Bill Gates isn’t sitting in front of a laptop computer at a Maine middle school right now? Why should we lose him or her to another state just because Maine doesn’t offer the cultural and economic diversity he or she craves?
For too many young people, Maine is on the Move means a U-Haul loaded with dorm furniture heading out of state. This has to change.
I propose to hold a Youth Summit that will bring together some of our youngest public servants, students and entrepreneurs to examine why young people are leaving our state and what we can do to bring them back. I want this group to hear from young people, business owners, elderly citizens and recent immigrants to find out how we can strengthen the economic and social capital of this state so Maine can offer them attractive opportunities and enjoy the benefits of their ingenuity and talent. I want this summit to lead to a permanent working group on Maine Youth that will advise my administration on ways to keep young people in Maine and bring those who have left back to our state.
We need to send a clear message to the young people who have left: come home. Come home to the state where you were born. We need your energy, your talents and your skills to create opportunity and help move Maine into the 21st Century.
As you can see, we have a lot of work ahead of us. But we can only do it if we work together, in a true bipartisan spirit. It’s been a long time since the state has had a Democratic Governor and a Democratic Legislature. But that gives me neither the license nor the liberty to move forward on any of my proposals without the involvement of the other parties. That includes the inaugural ball tomorrow night, which you’re all invited to.
And so I’m asking the leaders of both parties to join with me to work not for partisan interests, not for special interests, but for the interests of all the citizens of Maine. Together, let’s make the people of Maine proud.
This was the first election held in the 21st Century. Everyone who has stood here to take this oath and assume the tremendous responsibility of being governor of Maine has talked about how we live in a special time in history. They all believed it, and every one of them was right. Because life is special, and Maine is special, and our time here is so short.
Tonight I pledge to the people in this room and to those listening at home, to do everything I can to make my time in office special to the people of Maine. The task before us may be above the talents of any one individual, but it is not above the combined talents of Maine and its people.
Tonight, I’m asking all of you to join with me, to work together, to help make this state an even better place to live, to work, and to raise a family, to help build the kind of state and community that moves Maine toward greatness.
God bless you all. God bless the State of Maine and good night.
SOURCE: http://www.maine.gov/legis/house/records/121hrec/20030108.doc (accessed January 5, 2011)
Photo source: http://www.maine.gov/portal/images/awards/award_event_05/event06.jpg (accessed January 5, 2011)