In her recent column, “Democrats in Augusta stand up for Maine people,” House Minority Leader Emily Cain is right on one count. Maine voters did send us to Augusta to improve the state’s dismal economy. She states that Democrats “got the message loud and clear,” but it’s apparent to me she only got part of the message.
In large numbers, Maine voters decided it was time for a change after four decades of Democratic leadership in the House. They plainly saw that the tax-and-spend, big government policies were not working. Forbes magazine actually rated Maine as the worst state in the country for business. The state generated only 56 net new jobs between 2000 and 2010, according to University of Southern Maine economist Charles Colgan.
Obviously, something had to change, and this past session the Republican-led Legislature passed numerous commonsense reforms. One of these involved sweeping changes to our state’s complicated regulatory structure.
After a select legislative committee working on LD 1 finished its tour of the state, listening to business owners, farmers, fisherman, employers and other regular Mainers, we crafted legislation to start dismantling unnecessary bureaucratic hurdles while maintaining reasonable safeguards, reducing paperwork and streamlining procedures.
Republican leaders worked hard to find common ground on this legislation, which ultimately passed with overwhelming bipartisan support. However, the regulatory reform process but would never have gotten out of the gate without Republican leadership.
Rep. Cain also states the new health insurance legislation would “raise the cost of health care and add a new tax on everyone’s health insurance policies.” The reform package will introduce more competition into the Maine insurance market, thus providing us with more options and better pricing. For the first time, starting in 2014, Mainers will be able to buy health insurance across state lines. Businesses also can band together to obtain better rates for their employees.
It is true that the law includes a new $4 monthly assessment for those with private coverage plans. That money will fund the Guaranteed Access Plan, which will subsidize coverage for individuals with chronic and expensive conditions who might otherwise find insurance unaffordable or unavailable. That fee, however, represents a modest amount compared to the $40 million per year tax for the failed DirigoChoice health program, which is being phased out. Until now, it required Maine’s insured to ante up 2.14 percent of paid insurance claims to fund Dirigo.
It also took Republican leadership to ferret out and address abuse at the Maine Turnpike Authority. Structural changes were enacted that will make the organization accountable to residents and tollpayers.
Rep. Cain also makes reference to a “tax giveaway” to our wealthiest residents. What she fails to mention is that Republicans brought us the largest tax cut in state history. All Mainers will benefit from structural changes in the tax system.
A family of four with an adjusted income of $35,750, using the standard deduction, will owe no Maine income tax, up from the current $21,400 tax-free threshold. A family of four earning $50,000 a year will see a tax cut of $302 a year — a 24.6 percent reduction. Perhaps most remarkably, some 70,000 low- and middle-income filers will now pay no state income taxes thanks to these reforms.
It also took new leadership to finally confront the state’s looming public pension crisis, our ticking time bomb. We reduced the unfunded liability by more than $1.7 billion (down to $2.4 billion), a move that will save taxpayers $338 million over the next two years and more than $3 billion through 2028. These changes enhance the system’s long-term stability.
The House Democratic leadership had decades to address these problems, but under their watch, things kept getting worse. The mess won’t be cleaned up overnight, but our state is now on a positive new track and those who create jobs are feeling better about doing business in Maine.
Rep. Cain announced recently that Democrats will be going on a listening tour to see what’s on the mind of Mainers. I think she and her party will find that Mainers have been speaking loudly about all of these issues for years, but her party didn’t bother to listen. When they finish their tour, the Democrats can return to Augusta, where Republicans will be waiting to again work in a bipartisan, common-sense manner to solve the remaining challenges facing our state.
Andre Cushing, R-Hampden, is the assistant majority leader in the Maine House of Representatives.