Dear Gov. Mills,
By the time you read this, the word “elect” will have been dropped from your title, and you will be our new governor. I say “our” new governor, because too many politicians of both parties forget that they have been elected to represent everyone, including those who love them and voted for them, and also those who do not and did not. Believe it or not, I actually think that fact will not stray far from your mind, and that you actually will remember.
But whether you do or not, you are now my governor, and I wish you all the success possible in your new position. As one of those people who did not vote for you, I do feel confident enough to say that of the people in your party that wanted to become governor, I am quite happy that it ended up being you, rather than some of the other choices.
You are blessed, in many ways, as you take office. Whether you credit Gov. Paul LePage, the national economic environment, or anything else, you have inherited a state that is in the strongest financial position it has been in for thirty years, if not longer. The state budget is in surplus, the bills are paid on time, the cash pool is full, unemployment is historically low, GDP is growing, and so are wages.
That is great news, and is much better than the situation inherited by LePage, or his predecessor John Baldacci. They had great economic challenges that they needed to deal with immediately, which led to hard choices that they probably would rather have not had to make. You won’t have to do that.
What you will have to do is use this moment in time to make permanent and long needed changes to the state. You have an opportunity that is not likely to come again for a very, very long time. You have the chance to make Maine truly competitive, and ensure a lasting prosperity for our state.
In many ways, we have watched the future pass us by. To the south, Massachusetts, once derided as “Taxachusetts” by liberals and conservatives alike, has slowly and surely — under the guidance of a Democratic supermajority, I might add — curtailed the state’s tax burden, so that today the state has a 5.1 percent income tax.
Of course, you know that next door, New Hampshire has — and has long had — no income tax, and no sales tax.
Massachusetts and New Hampshire are obviously regional competitors for people, businesses, and capital investment. But then there’s Florida. More than 1,200 miles away from Portland, our largest city, sits one of our biggest economic threats. No income tax. No death tax. Warm weather. Retirement capital of the east.
Talk to any financial advisor, and they will tell you the stories. Clients who have any wealth, and spend any amount of time in Florida — or any of the other low tax states — are advised of just how much money they would save themselves, if they would just make their move permanent. Usually their clients hold out for a while, but they move. By the hundreds. By the thousands. They’d stay if it was just a little bit more reasonable for them to be here.
Maine is hemorrhaging two things right now, and has been for decades: young people, and wealth. And our state desperately needs both.
When I was 33 years old and considering a move back to Maine, the difference in income tax alone meant that I was going to be earning significantly less than I would have if I had stayed where I was. I moved anyway, but only because I love this state so much that I am willing to pay. You have no idea how many people who want to live here are not as willing as I am. You’ll never see them. Right now they’re living in North Carolina, Florida, Massachusetts, Virginia, Utah, Colorado and any number of other places, instead of here. And because of that, we don’t get the tax money from their earnings, we don’t get their kids, we don’t get their talent, drive, and ambition, and we don’t get the economic growth they bring.
It is time to change that. You’ll never have a better chance to do it, and if you do, you will be remembered as a transformative, maverick governor who changed her state forever.