October 28, 2021

Think tank head discusses state’s role

ORONO — The last decade of the American century finds the federal government in the throes of change and the states forced to accommodate that change, Kent Briggs said Tuesday night in an after-supper speech at a conference on “Rethinking State Government.”

Lawmakers, educators and those with an interest in state policy signed on for the two-day conference at the University of Maine. In an academic setting, away from politics as usual in Augusta, more than 400 participants gathered to hash out visions for restructuring state government.

“The states’ role in the federal system has changed dramatically. The federal government is out of control. … It is into too many things, it is acting like a city council,” said Briggs, director of regional programs at the Center for the New West, a public policy think tank in Denver.

At the center, Briggs charts trends in demographics, government and business and works on developing ways public and private sectors can adjust to them.

The conference, charged with looking at how best to meet the evolving demands placed on state government in Maine, should keep in mind four factors, Briggs said.

With the change in the White House comes the likelihood of a new federalism. Washington likely will shed some services it traditionally provides. In a trade, Washington will pick up health care while giving to the states transportation and economic development, Briggs said.

A new regionalization has developed where old political boundaries between states and even countries means little. States have to look at ways to accommodate a regionalism driven by market forces. The 1992 elections saw the emergence of a new politics. Talk-show hosts figure strongly in the new era. Voters rage at being ignored by politicians. “The Perot vote is a wake-up call,” Briggs said.

Finally, he said, President-elect Bill Clinton’s talk of a new covenant may see government serve as a catalyst for services rather than a deliverer of services.

“As you go about restructuring, think about public-private partnerships, what serves the public needs,” Briggs said.

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