'Lofty goals, squishy objectives' make for bad policy

By Duncan S. Milne | Jan 25, 2020

Organizations often distribute grand statements of strategy and policy to lull their constituents into a belief that “all is well.” The former Soviet Union and other Communist economic models rolled out “Five-Year Plans” in an effort to placate the masses. These kinds of “plans” might have compelling titles or consist of feel-good phrases, but they aren’t actually effective.

To be truly effective, long-term strategic planning requires a realistic understanding of existing conditions as well as the conditions you expect to be in place as your strategy is executed over time. Realistic goals, objectives, tasks, and milestones are required to execute, assess, and adjust your plan.

The column “As Waldo County goes, so goes Maine” by Senator Herbig is full of lofty goals and squishy objectives without specifics. It fails to acknowledge that the environment that this “strategy” is to be executed in is fundamentally incapable of supporting its own utopian vision.

Maine is bleeding. We are bleeding talent, high-wage jobs, small business opportunities, and economic drivers that are needed to help offset the increasing negative impact of excessive taxes and nanny-state government programs.

Maine was on the right track, but has taken a wrong turn since 2018. Maine’s aging population isn’t being replaced by new talent, whether grown in Maine or attracted here by promise of a bright economic and environmental future.

Sen. Herbig believes that Maine “is a special place to live, work and raise a family. By communicating that effectively, we can help address our workforce shortage.” We all believe that Maine is special. It’s why I returned here after years away while I served in the military. But the truth is we can’t rely on just that feeling and belief to attract people to live and work here.

State government already spends millions each year communicating what a wonderful place Maine is. The reality is that Waldo County and the rest of Maine are in a competition for our very future. Continuing with this strategy based on nothing but hope will not address our real workforce and aging problems if we aren’t also implementing policies that actually create a healthy economic environment (and repealing those that don’t!).

What we need are real economic incentives that compel people to choose Maine over our neighbors. Quite simply, this means lower taxes and a more business-friendly environment. Both are things that Sen. Herbig and her Democratic colleagues have voted against time and again, instead opting for policies that sound good but in reality often make it harder for employers to operate in Maine. A 12.4% increase in the budget in one year; attacks on our incredible economic engine, Bath Iron Works; I could go on and on....

Maine ranks in the bottom five states for business climate and the top five for tax burden. Until we address these two issues with a laser focus, we won’t attract new businesses or new people, including young families, to our great state. Neither business climate nor tax burden is addressed by Herbig in her discussion of this proposed 10-year “plan.”

The current strong economy is a great smoke screen for short-sighted policy. When the economy hits a downturn, the folly of the current tax and spend policies will rear its ugly head. Will Maine be prepared to weather the storm? Will we have built a resilient economy based on business-friendly policies that include all segments of our society?

What Maine doesn’t need is more sleight-of-hand policy meant to distract from the true challenges Maine faces as we move forward into the next decade. Honest, evidence-based, adult conversations are what I promise for Waldo County. Not soothing, milquetoast position papers meant to make us feel everything is OK while, behind closed doors, the future of Maine and our Waldo County is being mortgaged.

I love Maine; I came back here to continue my journey of service — but a wise man once told me, “Don’t be a martyr to change.” If we don’t change the leadership in Waldo County and the state of Maine as a whole, I fear we may all see ourselves 10 years down the road as martyrs who blindly followed an unsupportable “plan” that is not aligned with reality.

Duncan S. Milne is a Republican running for the Senate District 11 seat currently held by Democrat Erin Herbig. He is a retired Marine colonel.

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