Ending Maine’s tax-and-spend culture

By Stephen Bowen, Special to the BDN
Posted Oct. 29, 2009, at 12:28 a.m.

In its recent editorial encouraging a no vote on the Question 4 Taxpayer Bill of Rights initiative, the Bangor Daily News repeats many of the worn-out claims one hears from the tax-and-spend special interests who oppose TABOR II.

The BDN claims, for instance, that TABOR II would “freeze” government spending at a certain point. In fact, TABOR II would allow government spending to grow at whatever rate voters prefer. Under TABOR II, government spending could double every year if voters approved such increases at the ballot box.

The BDN also claims that TABOR has been so harmful to Colorado, where it has been on the books since 1992, that voters there suspended “key parts of the law.” To be clear, Colorado residents voted to allow the state to temporarily retain surplus revenues that were to have been refunded back to taxpayers, but otherwise left the TABOR law untouched. Colorado voters still get to vote on spending and tax increases and just last year they overwhelmingly rejected a proposal to repeal TABOR in its entirety.

The BDN goes on to accuse TABOR II supporters of having “an animus for government.” The use of the word “animus,” which is defined as a feeling of hostility or ill-will, suggests that the tens of thousands of Mainers who signed the petitions putting TABOR II on the ballot, as well as the thousands more who will vote for it on Election Day, hate government.

Like all Mainers, though, TABOR II supporters understand that government is a necessity. The central question of the TABOR II debate is one of how much government is enough and how much government is too much.

Those opposed to TABOR II have made their opinions on this question quite clear. Christopher St. John, one of TABOR II’s most ardent opponents, has suggested not only that government spending should never decrease under any circumstances, but that it should constantly grow at the same pace as the rest of the economy.

In other words, if your pay goes up 5 percent, your taxes should go up 5 percent as well.

The BDN seems to agree, suggesting that Maine will not be able to “provide needed infrastructure and services” unless government spending continues to grow.

However, there is significant evidence to suggest that, if anything, Maine has too much government.

Maine still has a tax burden that is higher than most. Research by the Tax Foundation, for instance, indicates that 35 other states run their schools, pave their roads and take care of their needy residents while costing their taxpayers a smaller percentage of their hard-earned incomes than the Maine government demands from its taxpayers for providing these same services.

Indeed, it is hard to imagine Maine government being much bigger than it is today. We already have more people on Medicaid, as a percent of the population, than any other state, and a higher percentage of people on food stamps and welfare than all states but one.

Despite what you hear, it doesn’t have to be this way. The tax-and-spend special interests persist in advancing the fiction that state government must spend more because Maine is a large, sparsely populated state. The fact is, though, that none of the 12 states in the nation that are more sparsely populated has higher tax burdens than Maine. Not one.

The truth is that we have big government and high taxes because that is the path those in power have chosen. The question for voters to decide, therefore, is how well the big government and high-taxes approach is working for us.

Maine’s national ranking for per capita personal incomes was 35th in 1992 and is 35th today. Relative to the other 50 states, we’ve made no forward progress in raising the incomes of Maine people, despite the fact that total state spending skyrocketed 113 percent over that period. We doubled state spending in little more than 15 years and what, exactly, do we have to show for it?

The definition of insanity, it is said, is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. Maine has been trying, in vain, to tax and spend its way to prosperity for a generation. Those opposed to Question 4 have spent nearly $2 million, an almost unimaginable sum, trying to convince Mainers to continue down this same path regardless, though it grows harder each year to see how it is getting us any closer to the prosperous future we all want for our state.

Question 4, by contrast, represents a change from the tax-and-spend status quo. It represents a new and different approach to building prosperity, one that involves and empowers Maine taxpayers and makes government at all levels more transparent and accountable.

Election Day approaches and two paths lie before you, one tried and one new. Which will you choose?

Stephen Bowen directs the Center for Education Excellence at the Maine Heritage Policy Center.

http://bangordailynews.com/2009/10/29/opinion/ending-mainersquos-taxandspend-culture/ printed on July 25, 2014