Republican radio address
For the weekend of February 14-15, 2009

Greetings, this is Josh Tardy, leader of Republicans in the Maine House.

The talk all week has concerned the gigantic Stimulus Bill, which will take effect when the president signs it. At about $800 billion, it is the single largest expenditure ever by the United States government. Virtually all of this money will have to be borrowed, mostly from foreign countries, and the interest charges will add another $300 billion to the total cost. Our children and their children will be paying off this colossal loan for many years.

The objective, of course, is to create jobs and stimulate the economy to help pull us out of this deep recession. Will it work? That depends on which economist you listen to. Some say it is short on incentives to get consumers spending again and long on social goals that won’t increase economic activity. As one prominent economist said Thursday, the plan is unfocused. In his words, “It is a lot of money for a lot of nickel and dime programs. I would rather have had a lot of money to promote the purchase of housing and autos.” Other economists say the real impact won’t hit for two to three years.

No one seems sure about the effectiveness of this historic spending package, and certainly not the members of Congress. They won’t even have time to read the whole bill before voting on it. At last count, it ran 800 or 900 pages, and it is jam-packed with arcane language that only serious policy wonks can understand. As former House Speaker Newt Gingrich said Thursday night, only 4 or 5 percent of the members of Congress will be able to read and comprehend the whole thing before casting their votes. This does not exactly instill confidence in the American taxpayers who will have to foot the bill for the thing.

The state of Maine will get a big chunk of money from this financial bonanza, and I appreciate the determined and thoughtful work of senators Collins and Snowe.. The precise amount is not yet known. But whether our state receives $1 billion or maybe a lot more, the important thing to keep in mind it that this is one-time money. When it is spent, it is gone. The governor has met with legislative leaders to assure us that the incoming money will be carefully fenced off for specific programs to stave off the kind of confusion that can come with the arrival of a truckload of cash.

The one-time money must be spent as wisely as we know how. Some of it will go to plugging holes in the state budget, but much of it needs to be targeted to create as many jobs as possible. The key to pulling Maine out of recession and back on a path to normalcy and prosperity is jobs – and more jobs. Until the state’s workforce is fully employed and confident that the worst is behind us, consumers will continue to spend sparingly. Consumer spending is two-thirds of our economy, so getting folks buying and selling again is essential to a recovery. People who are unemployed or nervous about their jobs won’t get our economy moving again.

Now is also an ideal time to eliminate the blockades the state has placed in the path of job creation. We can’t control what Washington does, but we can control what Maine does. And to make sure a recovery has lasting value, we must take steps to encourage business formation and expansion. When employers aren’t doing well, we get layoffs. When they are doing well, we gain jobs. Unfortunately, for decades, we have heaped bigger and bigger burdens on Maine’s business community. One result is an extremely weak job creation rate even in the best of times. Now our backs are to the wall, and it is time to act.

Let me talk briefly about some of the things that are holding back Maine’s economy and holding down job creation. These come from a senior management survey conducted last year by the Maine Economic Research Institute, a nonpartisan group based in Augusta. They asked more than 400 of the state’s top business managers to rate the economic drag created by 11 different items. And at least 75 percent of them said that every one of the 11 posed real problems for their companies.

Maine’s high energy costs took first place. 94 percent of the managers cited our expensive electricity as a negative economic influence. Second place went to the level of our state and local taxes. Health insurance costs came in third, followed by transportation costs, the Maine House of Representatives, the state’s regulatory climate and the Maine Senate. Obviously, the Legislature must shoulder a lot of the blame for our lackluster economy. This should be a lesson to legislators who treat business as the enemy.

To round out the list of economic downers, we have Dirigo Health, environmental regulations and workers’ comp costs.

If you study that list, you will notice that every item is something that can be controlled by the people of Maine. I suggest that we get moving on these problems to create a more positive business climate in Maine. We’re constantly rated as one of the five most hostile states for business, and that’s just not good enough anymore. Not when we’re facing the economic problems we now have. Serious times call for serious people to take serious action. If we are to mount a sustainable economic recovery for Maine, one-time money from Washington won’t do the trick. We have the power in our own hands to set course for a stronger future for us and our children.

This is Josh Tardy. Thank you for listening.