AUGUSTA, Maine — The ongoing series of Wall Street protests moved to Maine’s capital Thursday as about two dozen trade workers, state employees and residents held a rally calling for passage of a federal jobs bill and a new tax to pay for it.
“They got bailed out, we got sold out,” the protesters chanted from under their umbrellas as they left the State House in the rain for the federal building a couple of blocks away to deliver their demands to the offices of U.S. Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins. Those demands included lists of projects that could be funded in Maine.
The two Republican senators from Maine voted this week against President Barack Obama’s $447 billion jobs bill, which includes stimulus-style spending and a tax surcharge for the rich.
Speakers at Thursday’s rally said they want Congress to pass a jobs bill, as well as a tax on all financial transactions they say could generate $312 billion that could be spent on an array of job creating programs. Maine’s share, they said, would be about $380 million, which would be spent on transportation projects, keeping teachers on the job, school and housing upgrades.
The rally and march were organized by the Maine AFL-CIO, Maine State Employees Association and Maine People’s Alliance, a citizen activist group. Leaders said they support, but are not part of, the Occupy Maine protest whose participants have been showing up at Portland’s Monument Square each day.
While their rhetoric scoring excesses of Wall Street sounded like that of the New York movement, the Augusta protesters’ message was much more focused.
“Workers like us didn’t crash the economy; Wall Street did,” said Dawn Frank of Oxford, an electrician who has had a difficult time finding work. “It’s been rough. It’s been rough for everybody. Let’s get Maine workers like me rebuilding our country.”
Retired Readfield teacher Donna Dachs said the state’s schools, roads, bridges and ports urgently need to be upgraded. Of the $380 million Maine could receive, $117 million would be used to keep educators and first responders on the job. Another large chunk, $139 million, would be used to improve highways, bridges and public transit systems.
Cokie Giles, a nurse at Eastern Maine Medical in Bangor and president of the Maine State Nurses Association, said her union and National Nurses United are trying to build support for a tax on financial transactions, which advocates see as a way of redistributing wealth. The idea has been embraced by some in the Occupy Wall Street movement.
Leaders of the Democratic minority of the Maine Legislature said they hear what the protesters are saying and that their party stands with the state’s working people.
“They are frustrated with a political system and economic policies that help those at the very top at the expense of everyone else,” said Senate Minority Leader Barry Hobbins of Saco.
Rep. Emily Cain of Orono, leader of the House Democrats, said the Occupy Wall Street movement “continues to gain traction because Americans are angry. While the rich get richer, opportunities for economic prosperity for the working and middle class are diminishing.”