From the plow drivers at the Maine Department of Transportation and Maine Turnpike Authority, to the environmental workers at the Maine Department of Environmental Protection, the public workers we represent provide quality services that keep our communities safe and strong. Just like our neighbors, we send our children to the local schools, drive on local roads, use the state parks and count on public safety in our communities. We also pay property taxes, excise taxes, state and federal income taxes, and sales taxes. So our interest in adequately funded public services runs deep.
Voters in Maine and across the nation sent a clear message Nov. 6: It’s time to put the middle class first by ending the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest 2 percent of all Americans. Instead of further eroding public structures to pay for the Bush tax cuts, make the wealthiest Americans start paying their fair share.
Because of the work we do, we get an up-close and experienced perspective on the state of public services throughout Maine. When we see opportunities to deliver public services more efficiently or with greater accountability, we speak up. We make our voices heard at work, in the Legislature and in our communities. Over the summer, we even petitioned Gov. Paul LePage to prevent the privatization of Crescent Beach State Park in Cape Elizabeth.
We can all agree that Mainers have endured several years of austerity budgets. Necessary repairs to Maine’s highways and bridges have been postponed indefinitely, and thousands of low-income and elderly Mainers have been cut off from Medicaid. Classrooms are growing more crowded; programs and services are being cut; and teachers are buying their own supplies.
It didn’t have to be this way, and it doesn’t have to be this way. So many of the cuts made to publicly funded services in Maine over the past two years were made simply to pay for upcoming state income-tax breaks largely benefiting the wealthiest Mainers — tax breaks that are contributing heavily to a projected $750 million gap in the next two-year state budget. All the while, local property taxes keep going up as more and more costs are shifted from state government onto our communities.
Right now, some politicians in Washington, D.C., are poised to try to push our entire nation down the same austerity path that has unnecessarily created so much hardship for working Mainers, retired Mainers and their families. Federal budget cuts endanger Medicare, nursing home assistance, college tuition aid and other programs important to the economic safety and prosperity of middle-class families.
Few object to austerity when it’s required. During wars or natural disasters, people understand the need for rationing. In New Jersey after Hurricane Sandy, few complained about restrictions on gas sales because gas was in tight supply.
What’s wrong with the austerity imposed by Republicans in the 125th Maine Legislature and now threatened by some politicians in Washington is that it’s largely a self-created crisis. Politicians at both the state and national levels have opted against collecting the revenue needed to fund the programs our society needs. The priorities of the wealthiest Americans have taken precedent over the priorities of middle class families.
What the politicians have done in recent years is cut taxes on those who need tax relief least — the wealthy — supposedly in pursuit of economic growth that never materialized for most of us. The Bush-era tax cuts turned trillion dollar surpluses into trillion-dollar deficits.
High-end tax cuts have never been shown to boost economic growth or hiring. The sluggish economy that followed the Bush tax cuts proved that. Right now, wealthy people and the corporations they invest in are sitting on a huge pile of cash. They’re waiting for more customers to buy the products they’re selling. The only way those customers will show up is with a strong middle class with secure jobs and incomes, along with smart public investments in roads, highways, education and health care.
Don’t let the federal government repeat Maine’s mistakes. Before we cut another dime from public services, we need to make sure wealthy households are contributing their fair share to debt reduction. Tax cuts should be allowed to expire on the richest 2 percent – households with more than $250,000 in annual income. This would raise $1 trillion over the next decade to retire debt and strengthen programs like Medicare. At the same time, tax cuts should be extended for the other 98 percent of us, increasing our purchasing power.
Take it from your local plow driver and other public servants: Our beleaguered community services can’t absorb any more cuts. Let Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins know that in the current budget debate, increased revenues through higher tax rates on the wealthy must come first.
A resident of Caribou, Ginette Rivard became president of the Maine State Employees Association, Local 1989 of the Service Employees International Union, in November 2011, after serving four years as vice president.