We live in a time of historic inequality. While hardworking Mainers scrimp and save to pay their fair share of taxes, corporations like GE rake in billions in profit and pay no taxes at all. More than 56 percent of all income gains over the last 20 years went to the richest 1 percent of Americans — yet their share of national taxes has fallen dramatically.
In Maine, 8.5 percent of people are jobless and even higher numbers want to work more but can only find part-time jobs. One out of every 2,351 Maine families had to file for foreclosure last year alone.
But some politicians are now proposing to exacerbate this growing inequality and slow down our economic recovery. The budget proposed by Rep. Paul Ryan would transfer wealth from the middle class to the CEOs and the wealthy — while doing almost nothing to reduce our budget deficit.
Now, more than ever, we need to strengthen — not slash — programs such as Medicare so our seniors have health care, Head Start so our children have a future and other services middle class families depend on. And we need to invest in our future while restoring balance and shared prosperity.
Creating jobs is the key to making long-term deficit reduction achievable and providing the relief working people need now. An investment in transit and other infrastructure will create jobs and keep our communities safe and thriving. And we need to lay the foundation for long-term economic growth by investing in clean energy, education and job training.
Yet the Republican majority in Congress put forward a federal budget that goes in exactly the wrong direction. Not only would it deepen the disparities between the super-wealthy and everyone else, it would gut the programs and investments that make this country great. It would slash funding for essential services for working families and retirees and move it to the pockets of Wall Street and the rich — while barely making a dent in the deficit. The budget, passed by a partisan 235-193 vote in the U.S. House of Representatives, does not even attempt to solve our fiscal problems. It is a fraud on the American people.
The Republican budget forces seniors to pay dramatically more for health care. It kicks 200,000 children out of Head Start, cuts funding for elementary and secondary education by 25 percent and slashes college aid for 8 million students. According to several economic analyses, that budget would destroy somewhere between 1.7 million to 2.2 million jobs.
Simply put, it’s a threat to American jobs and to students, retirees and working families.
Not so for corporate CEOs. According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, the budget passed by the Republican majority hands out $4.2 trillion in tax breaks, mostly to corporations and rich individuals, while cutting $4.3 trillion in services. It isn’t about getting our fiscal house in order — it is only about gutting working family services.
And it comes as Wall Street executives post record-high compensation and colossal bonuses, oblivious to the economic ruin they caused just three years ago. Recently the AFL-CIO launched Executive PayWatch 2011, an online data bank of CEO pay at top companies. PayWatch provides direct comparisons between CEO pay and the average pay of nurses, firefighters and others. The results are astounding. Corporations are reaping massive profits while workers’ wages are stagnant or worse. Urban Outfitters CEO Glen Senk makes 1,477 times more than a retail salesperson.
If America wants to move forward, we cannot afford this partisan federal budget, which would lead to lost jobs, a further decline of national living standards, and deeper disparities.
Working people in Maine deserve better.
We need a budget plan where “shared sacrifice” starts at the top. We need a fairer tax system, where the wealthy and corporations pay their fair share to reduce our long-term deficit. That means repealing the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy, ending corporate tax breaks for offshoring jobs and imposing a modest tax on financial speculation.
The Republicans’ so-called “Path to Prosperity” budget, authored by Rep. Paul Ryan, would reserve the path to prosperity for only Wall Street and the wealthiest of Americans.
Rep. Ryan’s budget flunks the test of job creation, deficit reduction and plain old common sense. It’s a slap in the face to working families in Maine and a path to nowhere.
Richard Trumka is president of the AFL-CIO. Don Berry is president of the Maine AFL-CIO.