Three good signs the Maine GOP is returning to its pro-business roots

Last week, three great initiatives emerged that could have a positive impact on Maine’s economy and our reputation as a pro-business state. And all three signal a long-awaited and welcome return to free market principles by Republicans in Augusta.

The first was the announcement of red-tape cutting measures to help expedite certifications for certain professions in Maine. The LePage administration outlined a series of bills that will make it easier for engineers, electricians, funeral practitioners, and pump installers to become certified to work in Maine. The initiative gives the certifying agencies more latitude to factor in prior work experience as part of the approval process. As part of the same legislative rollout, the administration proposes making it easier for veterans to qualify for professional certifications based on their military experience.

These changes make sense. They will make it easier to get newly trained Mainers into the workforce, and will also make it easier for workers with these skills to relocate to Maine. This is not a particularly glamorous initiative, but it lifts one more barrier to economic activity.

Gov. Paul LePage had “Open for Business” signs installed at Maine’s border.

Another development was an aggressive push by GOP Sen. Eric Brakey to completely eliminate the requirements for licensure on a number of professions — ranging from dietetic technicians to taxidermists to massage therapists. This bill is sure to meet opposition from current licensees, who often see certification requirements as a barrier to entry for their potential competitors. But Brakey’s efforts are in the right spirit.

Antiquated licensing requirements on many of these professions serve little more public good than just thinning out the number of practitioners, and this drives costs up for consumers. Maine should be doing everything it can as a state government to encourage economic activity, not limit it, and though there may be room for some oversight on some of these professions, Brakey is right to push the Legislature to examine whether regulations are actually serving a useful purpose.

A third initiative that signals a positive, pro-growth posture by Maine Republicans is an effort to examine the rate of permitting approval by Maine’s regulatory agencies. Sponsored by GOP Rep. Jeffrey Pierce, this bill would convene a study commission to analyze the approval rate for development projects by state agencies that issue permits. The bill doesn’t recommend any specific changes in the permitting process, but it takes steps to shine a light on the actual number of projects that are approved or declined.

Pierce’s bill makes an interesting point. Since the Republican-led 125th Legislature passed L.D. 1 — the regulatory reform bill championed by Gov. LePage in 2011 as the first bill of the new Republican era — there has been very little discussion about its actual impact.

Republicans, and this administration in particular, believe that a private-sector accountability model is what should be used to streamline state government. And one of the core tenets of that model is quantifiable progress. No successful company in America operates without a clear set of metrics.

Unfortunately, because of politics, government tends to close its eyes to that type of accountability and instead throws out anecdotal spin about how great things are. And things may be great in our regulatory agencies, but the Legislature and the public have no way of knowing that.

That’s why Pierce’s bill is interesting. It suggests a model for feedback on the efficacy of pro-business efforts based purely on data, not political spin or anecdote. 

Some projects deserve to be rejected or modified, of course, but if there is a preponderance of permit denials, this could reveal institutional problems inherent in the process.

Likewise, if Maine’s agencies are getting projects permitted at a rate competitive with other states, this is valuable data that could help us push back against our reputation for being unfriendly to business.

Though small in scope, Pierce’s bill is a step in the right direction, and again signals that Republicans are returning to their pro-business roots in Augusta.

All three of these initiatives will certainly receive opposition from those who fear a relaxation of regulatory control on Maine industries may harm either consumers or the environment, but generally this debate favors Republicans. Maine voters support business development, and they understand we need to do all we can to help grow our economy. Even if these bills don’t eventually pass, Republicans are accumulating credibility with voters through their efforts to grow jobs in Maine through common-sense measures. That will pay dividends at the ballot box.

As a free market conservative, I’ve been disappointed at the slow pace of reform since Republicans re-emerged as a political force in 2011. Republicans came to power as a reaction to the anti-business mindset of many in the Democratic Party, but the chaos of the LePage administration has really knocked the GOP off of their economic development mission. These initiatives for reducing red tape and providing transparency in our regulatory process give some hope that the GOP is starting to gravitate back to its pro-growth roots, and that’s a good thing for Maine.

Lance Dutson

About Lance Dutson

Lance Dutson, a principal of Red Hill Strategies, is a Republican communications consultant. He has served on the campaign teams of U.S. Sens. Susan Collins and Kelly Ayotte, as well as the Maine Republican Party.