The state of Maine faces serious challenges. While the rest of New England has found a path out of the economic downturn, Maine’s economy was the only one that shrunk. There are still more than 50,000 Mainers officially out of work and even more who are working but not earning enough to make ends meet. These are serious problems that require serious solutions.
Recently, Senate minority leader Mike Thibodeau accused Democrats of wanting to tax our way out of our problems. This most certainly is not the case. And, in fact, his assertion is ironic, given that he and some other legislative Republicans are endorsing Gov. Paul LePage’s budget proposal that would likely result in increased property taxes for most Mainers.
More accurately, Democrats believe that, as with most things in life, we need a balanced approach to address our fiscal woes. While it is true that we cannot tax our way out of our problems, it is equally true that we can’t cut our way to prosperity.
Interestingly, the budget priorities put forth by LePage do both.
Last year, the governor and his legislative allies rammed through the Legislature an unfunded $400 million tax cut that mostly benefits the wealthy. This year, that bill is due, and LePage’s solution is to shift more than $420 million of the state’s tab onto the property tax owners of Maine, middle-class families, the elderly and the most vulnerable.
This will cost my district nearly $10 million in lost revenue, forcing communities to cut essential town services, like police, education, fire and rescue. Or towns may be forced to raise property taxes, in some cases as much as 30 percent. Communities could also do both. If you own a home in Maine, pay attention.
While proposing to raise taxes for Maine property owners, the governor’s budget eliminates property tax relief programs like the Homestead exemption and Circuit Breaker program for Mainers under the age of 65.
The governor’s budget also reduces funding to school districts — another cost shift that towns will have to pick up.
Democrats believe that proposing a massive tax hike to pay for a tax cut that largely benefits the wealthiest among us is simply unfair. We believe people making more than $250,000 a year should pay more than those making $48,000. Right now, middle- and low-income Mainers are paying more of their income in overall state, local and property taxes than the wealthiest Mainers, according to Maine Revenue Services.
If a budget is a reflection of priorities and choices, what can we conclude about the governor’s priorities and choices?
The governor and I share the goal of making government efficient and responsible. Shifting the costs to our towns is passing the buck, and that is not responsible — nor is it efficient.
There will always be different opinions about the best way to balance a budget, but many of us can agree that a massive tax shift onto our middle class, small businesses, communities, elderly and the poor is the wrong option. Instead, we need a balanced and responsible budget that won’t undercut our state’s economy or harm our efforts to grow the middle class.
We can start by crafting a budget that invests in job creation, education, healthy families and reduced energy costs.
We can work to put more money in the pockets of Maine’s families and small businesses so that those extra dollars can be spent at local businesses. This is one way to jump-start our economy and create more demand for our products.
In his recent State of the State address, LePage cited President John F. Kennedy’s caution about taxes. I hope that in the months ahead the governor will not forget another Kennedy quote: “Let us not seek the Republican answer or the Democratic answer but the right answer.”
Sen. John Patrick of Rumford represents District 14 in Oxford County.