Back Taxpayer Bill of Rights to curb state spending

Posted Sept. 06, 2009, at 7:37 p.m.

Over the past decade, 3,400 government jobs were added in Maine, while 13,000 private sector jobs were lost. This huge gap between private sector jobs and government employment is another reason Maine people need to take control of state and local spending increases.

For example, data from the Maine Department of Labor reveal there are fewer private sector workers in Maine today than a decade ago. Since that time, Maine’s private sector has lost 13,000 workers.

In stark contrast, Maine’s state and local governments have added 3,400 employees over the last decade. To put it another way, for every state or local government employee added in the past 10 years, four private sector workers have lost their jobs.

This growth in government jobs has been driven by out-of-control government spending. From fiscal year 2000 to 2008, total state expenditures grew $2 billion, from $4.7 billion to $6.8 billion. During a decade of low inflation and a very stable state population, how can state leaders justify a runaway spending increase of 45 percent?

When Gov. John Baldacci was re-elected in 2006, he was quoted in this newspaper saying that he heard the message from Maine’s voters, and promised to cut state spending and lower your taxes. This has not happened.

Clearly, the only long-term solution for controlling this kind of runaway government spending is the Taxpayer Bill of Rights initiative. This ballot measure, if passed this November, will allow Maine voters to decide if government should grow faster than the economy’s ability to create jobs for private sector workers.

After several attempts at spending controls, tax shifts, funding gimmicks and even a federal bailout this year,

Maine people are still facing unsustainable spending policies. The next governor and new Legislature will begin with a budget that outspends revenues by at least a billion dollars. This is a tough situation of their own making, and they cannot depend on another bailout from Washington.

The fact is, a sustainable economy depends on private sector job growth and this job creation depends on a stable business environment that is not threatened by ongoing tax increases. Because the Legislature has not been able to keep spending under control for several decades, Maine people must impose limits on annual spending increases.

This will stabilize the economy and encourage businesses to add new workers.

As we celebrate Labor Day, please ask your friends and neighbors working in the private sector if they are comfortable and confident with their jobs. Are they secure jobs with stable, growing companies, or do they feel threatened by the high taxes and unsustainable economy in Maine?

The troubling point here is that Maine’s leaders have had many chances to control state spending increases, control taxes and create a better business environment, but they have failed.

The Taxpayer Bill of Rights will help Maine workers create a stable, sustainable economy where their jobs will be more secure, their companies will expand and their children will be able to stay in Maine rather than leaving home to find a good job.

J. Scott Moody is the chief economist with the Maine Heritage Policy Center.

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