BANGOR, Maine — As the Maine Senate was preparing for a Tuesday afternoon budget vote, a crowd of 28 people gathered outside Bangor City Hall to protest what they called deep cuts in social services that will harm Maine and Bangor.
“I feel the state Legislature will be voting with an ideological prejudice,” said Bangor City Councilor Geoffrey Gratwick, who told people at the hour-long event he was speaking as a citizen and not representing the council. “I feel these cuts have the potential to have a very negative long-term effect on all of us.”
Protesters, some of whom held signs with slogans including “Keep Maine Healthy. Tax the Wealthy,” specifically cited proposed cuts in the Drugs for the Elderly, Medicare Savings, Head Start and Fund for a Healthy Maine programs.
Gratwick went on to place the blame for the cuts, which are being made to offset an estimated $80 million shortfall, on “last year’s tax cuts for the wealthy and the top 10 percent [economically] of Mainers.
“The wealthy must pay their fair share,” said Gratwick, a medical doctor.
He added: “Right now we have a structure in which the very wealthy are getting wealthier, so it’s my firm contention that the $3,000 to $4,000 they get back more in tax refunds make very little difference to their lifestyles. They can get along without that.”
The Senate voted 19-16 Tuesday afternoon in favor of the budget cuts.
Ilze Petersons, program coordinator for Bangor’s Peace and Justice Center, called the cuts an unfair way to fill the shortfall in the budget and said “the people who are most vulnerable should not be made to suffer more while the wealthiest in our state continue to enjoy tax breaks.”
Other speakers included Elaine Hewes, pastor of Redeemer Lutheran Church; Valerie Carter of the Bureau of Labor Education; Lawrence Reichardt, a spokesman for Occupy Bangor; Nicole Brown, a Maine People’s Alliance community organizer; Katrina Bisheimer, Community Health and Counseling psychiatric nurse; and Larry Dansinger, representing Resources for Organizing and Social Change.
“Today I join with others to urge our governor to rethink the budget and what’s best for all Maine citizens,” Hewes said.
Brown talked about a friend of hers who is 14 credits short of a college degree who may lose her job if some of the proposed cuts in state services and public assistance are approved.
“We don’t have a spending problem, we have a revenue problem,” Brown said.
Reichardt blamed “30 years of tax cuts for the wealthy and 30 years of slashing programs,” and said people are being sold a bill of goods that is a lie.
Carter referred to social service cuts as part of a sneak attack to decrease government revenues.
“These are short-sighted cuts, and part of a nationwide strategy to starve the beast, which is the federal government, because it’s wasteful,” Carter said. “But the problem is the government is us.”
A woman who identified herself only as a former social worker who has been disabled for the last 15 years said she relies on Social Security Disability Insurance funding. She said her partner also isn’t working and that if her public funding is taken away, she could be one of the people whose lives end prematurely.
There was a similar protest Tuesday at the State House.
Dozens of people opposed to Department of Health and Human Services cuts lined the corridors to the Maine Senate and House of Representatives chanting,”Protect Maine families,” “Maine can do better” and “No more cuts.” The chanting could be heard as a muffled roar inside the Senate chamber when Senate President Kevin Raye, R-Perry, called the Senate to order.
The Lewiston Sun Journal contributed to this report.