Not as bad as it looks

For all the dismay and disappointment attending the Legislature’s vastly incomplete performance over this last term, there is at least one break in the clouds over Augusta.

The reporting data suggests that Maine’s fiscal house has been put in order over the past seven years. A dogged effort to plan ahead for government employee pensions is working. And there’s a renewed commitment to paying our bills now instead of sending debts on to future generations.

The most recent federal Bureau of Economic Analysis report highlights the results of Maine’s stubborn economic position. Maine has clawed its way up the charts in New England, with personal income up 2.7 percent in 2017, ahead of Connecticut, Vermont and Rhode Island, while still trailing New Hampshire and the U.S. average of 3.1 percent.

Average household income in Maine last year placed 30th nationally, $51,494. There are 29 other states below the national average of $55,775. New Hampshire, at No. 7 ($70,303 per household) illustrates how tax structure and proximity to major economic markets have helped our neighbor state rise faster than others in the Northeast.

Yes, our incomes need to increase. We have the oldest average population age in the country, our housing stock is also among the oldest, our energy costs are too high and, at the country’s northeastern corner, often the end of the train.

But this misses our proximity to Canadian markets, our natural resources (such as the Gulf of Maine), as well as our inherent Yankee frugality. Mainers have proven they can do more with less. Over the last seven years, the Maine Legislature and Governor LePage have battled to lower government pension debt to manageable levels (Maine is ranked No. 16 nationally — ahead of the rest of the New England states), reduced taxes, created a rainy day fund and worked together to make government more accountable.

Overall, our business climate is better. Our economic fiscal rating is No. 42 nationally — a significant improvement over No. 48 in 2011 — plus debt service is lower, No. 10 compared to the other states.

Pundits can manipulate the data of any report. But the reality is less likely to be reshaped or misconstrued. There’s room for improvement — we need to spread the word about our fiscally responsible state and local governments. And let the world know that Maine is one of the safest states in the union. And we are second to none in quality of life.

We aren’t Connecticut, Illinois or one of several other states that will soon see their unfunded pension liabilities become the largest expense item in their budgets. With over $6 trillion in unfunded pension liabilities nationally, this ticking time bomb will destroy many state and city governments because of deferred attention. We can be thankful that Augusta has worked to prevent this from happening in Maine.

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