GUEST COLUMN: Augusta's way – Tax more, spend more

10

Maine House and Senate members overrode a veto by the Governor of the budget bill last week on Wednesday, June 26. In the Maine House, where I am a Representative for Maine House 103 (Raymond, Frye Island, parts of Poland and Standish), the vote to finally pass the budget was 114-34.

Three were absent and the bill needed 99 votes to override the veto. I was one of the 34 who voted no. In my view (in almost everyone’s view) the budget presented to us was not a good one. I voted no for a variety of reasons, which I will present now.

We can do better. The leadership put off this budget and other large decisions such as the hospital payments simply so there would be pressure at the last moment to vote yes to try to ensure they could get the vote their way. I believe we still had a few options and I was disappointed that so many people voted without much of a discussion.

Revenue sharing was an issue in this budget. Gov. LePage was charged with presenting us with a balanced budget. He did so in early January. No action was taken until we approached the end of the session. My belief is that the governor put a few painful things in this budget to force the Legislature to consider the items in the budget that could have been adjusted. In terms of revenue sharing, the Legislature (those voting yes) decided other parts of the budget were worth protecting much more than support to communities. It will be interesting to see if with the tax increases in the budget and the possible municipal/school budget increases, depending on how towns treated their own budget this year…if you will feel you got value.

The budget just passed seems to suggest Maine people are undertaxed and that Maine does not spend enough in a budget year. One complaint recently has been that the past Legislature did many things that were hurtful to the economy. We hear about tax breaks for the rich. Did you know that everyone who paid taxes got a tax break, that in the past “the rich” began at $19,000? 70,000 Mainers dropped off the tax rolls as the new income for the highest rate went from $19,000 to about $35,000 due to the work of the 125th.

It is not being well reported, but Maine revenues are up in recent months. We also are seeing positive signs in unemployment, insurance and other similar marks. Could it be that what the past Legislature (125th) did is working? In a recent discussion someone in the majority party complained how tax cuts affected government’s bottom line. Someone in the minority party jumped up to remind that the money actually belongs to the people – you. This exchange says a lot about belief systems in government and party.

Health care is a problem and clearly affected this budget process. We never look at why prices are higher, we simply blame insurance companies or businesses who do not cover their employees. In fact, lawsuits and laws that constantly are changing making insurance companies spend more and other interference by government are causing the prices to rise. We recently witnessed a South Portland physician who decided to stop taking insurance and his office visit price went from $175 to $75 per hour. Wow! The government policies said to be protecting you are doing the opposite.

I also voted against the Medicaid expansion. It was sad, but easy. To vote yes did not cover our neediest but would offer coverage to many who could take care of themselves. As for “free money,” I clearly do not trust Washington to pay their bills (with your money again) and was fearful that if we just accepted Washington’s deal, we could never get out.

In this current budget 25 percent of all monies goes to health care. If things went poorly with the “free money” from Washington we could be looking at a 75-percent level, which would devastate Maine. We need to reform health care, but not in a haphazard fashion.

The Maine Legislature spent most of the session working on bills that would not pass. I began to wonder if we were seeking to improve your lives or simply seeking fodder for the next election run. I could write an article simply on the accomplishments of the 125th Legislature. You may or may not have liked the work, but there were five or six upfront goals that were reached. The 126th Legislature is now finished for the first session other than a clean-up day on July 9. As I reflect on their leadership and work, all I can come up with as a goal was to spend money. Don’t take my word for it, go to www.maine.gov, find government and the bills/legislation area. See the work that was done. You tell me. I have supported most regular and supplemental budgets over my three years in the Legislature representing my district. I could not support this one. We could do better. Maine could do better.

Rep. Mike McClellan, R-Raymond, represents District 103, which includes Raymond, Frye Island, and parts of Poland and Standish.

NO COMMENTS