State Sen. Geoff Gratwick of Bangor hit the nail on the head in his Feb. 9 BDN OpEd about the importance of keeping a promise to local governments — the promise of revenue sharing with every community in the state. By returning a portion of sales and income taxes collected back to municipalities, the Legislature provides direct help to hard-pressed towns. This money is spent on a myriad of needed services locally, allowing communities to survive, even in trying times.
By contrast, Gov. Paul LePage, who loves to talk about cutting taxes, eliminated revenue sharing in his last year’s budget plan, thereby clobbering towns and shifting the tax burden back to local property owners. As an example, my hometown of Brooklin, population 824, would have lost $12,759 this year thanks to the governor’s refusal to continue revenue sharing. After all, it’s “welfare for municipalities.” While Brooklin’s $12,759 is a minuscule amount compared to the $2.3 million Bangor would lose, every dollar counts.
In the governor’s world, looking out for everyone’s welfare is, apparently, a bad thing. He seems not to realize that revenue sharing is equal to a tax cut to the towns, something that’s supposed to be near and dear to his heart. Fortunately, most of our state legislators live in the real world, and they voted to continue revenue sharing.
Another theme for the governor is “compassion,” which he addressed extensively earlier this month in his State of the State address. Apparently, it is out of compassion that he wants to lower the legal working age to 12, and generally loosen child labor laws. After all, he started work when he was 11! “It’s not a big deal. Work doesn’t hurt anybody,” he is quoted as saying. Why else would he promote a “training wage” of $5.25 for working children? This, at a time when when poverty is increasing, and 200,000 children and adults in Maine face “food insecurity.”
A partial solution, LD 1353, which aimed to make summer food programs more common for the 84,000 kids who qualify for free or reduced-cost lunches at their local schools, was vetoed by the governor. He called it another “irresponsible unfunded mandate.” Our legislators took a different tack. With bipartisan support they overrode the governor’s veto, and in doing so, encouraged more school districts to accept federal funds that pay for the summer lunch program.
An equally far-reaching issue facing the Legislature is the expansion of Medicaid to about 70,000 qualified, low-income Mainers who do not currently have health insurance. These are folks whose income is under 138 percent of the federal poverty level; many do not qualify for subsidies. The federal government would pick up 100 percent of the cost for the first three years, and ratchet down funding to 90 percent thereafter. Imagine the newly found peace of mind and improved health these families would experience if they had reliable health care, including a primary care provider who can guide them toward preventive care.
It seems that LePage is against virtually everything that is designed to help individuals. Worse, he demeans people in need. He, along with a chorus of his political supporters continue to refer to potential beneficiaries of the Medicaid expansion as “able-bodied,” implying, in other words, lazy and undeserving, and MaineCare as “welfare.”
What is the governor thinking? He says he is for job creation, but apparently not if the government initiates it. However, handing out millions of dollars in tax breaks — corporate welfare by any other name — to some imaginary big business is just fine with him.
Expanding Medicaid would create thousands of new jobs that cannot be outsourced. It is a good business decision, as well as an ethical one. Refusing hundreds of millions of dollars in federal funds — more than a quarter of a billion in new funds in 2016 and $82 million annually — makes no sense and punishes people who need our help most.
Maine will continue to be a state with untold opportunities. However, sane, rational and caring leadership is key to achieving progress. It is up to the state Legislature to get together, understand our mutual goals — those that benefit all us — work out the differences and get the job done. The process should begin by voting for the Medicaid expansion bill; it will bring better health and new jobs to thousands of Mainers.
We need a healthy, well educated state with full employment. Petty, vindictive, divisive politics will not get us there. We all must work for the common good because we’re in this together.
Joe Lendvai of Brooklin is a retired small business owner and a volunteer with Maine AllCare, an advocacy organization for universal, single-payer health care in Maine.