Fight for a Fair Budget Begins in Augusta

Before the 2012 election, the Maine People's Alliance launched a campaign for a Fair Share Economy.  MPA's vision proposed that everyone, including wealthy individuals and corporations, should pay their fair share and that health care, education, and job opportunities should be guaranteed as human rights for everyone in Maine.  The message of this campaign and the work of MPA and organizational allies helped elect progressive majorities to the House and Senate.

Unfortunately, Governor LePage didn’t get the message.  Instead, he has launched an unprecedented attack on nearly every Mainer in his budget proposal. 
Newly elected legislators have a real opportunity to move Maine towards a Fair Share Economy by expanding health care to thousands of uninsured Mainers and fully funding local education.

There are two very different possible futures for Maine; one of opportunity and one of disparity, and the choice between them comes down to whether or not the rich will pay their fair share of taxes.

Here are just a few highlights from the Governor’s budget proposal:

  • Take away prescription drugs for thousands of elderly and disabled Mainers through the elimination of the Drugs for the Elderly and Medicare Savings programs.
  • Eliminate Clean Elections in Maine by completely defunding the program.  (Clean Elections allows candidates for the legislature to avoid taking contributions from big corporations by providing them with public financing.)
  • Elimination of income support (SSI) for documented immigrants.  Many affected by this cut are   refugees who are elderly or have disabilities and for whom it is impossible to work or speak English and, without this income support through the Social Security administration, will have no other income.
  • Instead of supporting New Deal-style public jobs program, Governor LePage wants—yet again—to freeze state worker pay and shift more of health insurance costs onto them.

Most surprising of all is the Governor’s attack on Maine’s towns.  This includes the elimination of all revenue sharing with towns ($197 million); funding local schools $200 million less than what they should by law; cutting $6.7 million in General Assistance reimbursements to towns; the elimination of the Homestead Exemption and the Circuit Breaker property tax and rent relief programs and shifting 50% the cost of tax breaks for corporations through the BETR program onto towns.

All of this is to pay for hundreds of millions of dollars in tax cuts that give the top 1% of Mainers over $2,900 a year.  If the Governor hadn’t passed those tax cuts and actually focused on fixing the economy instead, Maine would have so much revenue that the state would now have a budget surplus.  In other words, none of these cuts are necessary.  The choice is between what is right for all Mainers verses what is right for the rich and powerful few.

One of the best choices the legislature can make for Mainers this year is to take advantage of all federal money from the Affordable Care Act to provide health care for over 44,000 Mainers.  Last year, unfortunately, the legislature cut over 50,000 people from MaineCare.  This year, thanks to ObamaCare, the federal government will pay 100% of the cost for providing health care to 44,000 of those who recently lost it.  In addition to being an obvious moral necessity, the dramatic reduction in the number of uninsured in Maine will help lower health care costs for everyone.  When people can see the doctor regularly and get preventative care, the entire state saves money in the long run by avoiding more costly acute treatment. 

Finally, one other great opportunity in the budget this year is the expansion of early childhood education and child care.  Working parents currently spend far too much of their budget on child care.  Studies show that by far the most cost-effective investments in a child’s education occur before they even get to kindergarten.  There seems to be good momentum around these early child hood investments; we need to seize this moment to move Maine forward by investing in the next generation.  We need universal pre-k, a system for more affordable child care, or some other significant investment that we can point to as real leadership for our children’s future.

In other words, the Governor’s budget proposals to move Maine backwards can and must be rejected.  Maine can instead move forward, towards a fair share economy, by drawing down these available federal funds for health care and making bold investments in early child hood education.  All that's needed is for the rich to pay their fair share.