High price of frugality



Gov. Paul LePage jumped into the health care fray, urging Maine Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King to support the American Health Care Act for the benefit of Mainers, “not the residents of some other state.” The governor called the AHCA “a work in progress,” but lo, it was more a work in shambles that collapsed when congressional Republicans could not crank out support for any of the versions offered in increasingly frenzied sequence in Washington last week.

Rep. Chellie Pingree was on record as opposed to the AHCA out of the gate. As for Rep. Bruce Poliquin, we’ll never know. As of the morning of the scheduled vote, he was on record as still studying the proposal.

It was Poliquin’s 2nd Congressional District (CD) that stood to lose big. With no shortage of older residents and families living below poverty level, the impact of passage would be significant, even on middle income residents. Those living in the 1st CD, Maine’s economically healthier southland, would have fared better.

There is a raging ideological divide between “trickle-down” theorists who want to cut taxes and others who cite the need for expanded social welfare programs. Fiscal conservatives in Maine cite an expanded cash pool, an increasing balance in the “rainy day” fund and lower taxes as moves toward a healthier economic footing for Maine.

What has this frugality yielded? The state has carved away public health home visits to newborns, an early intervention that can yield huge social benefits, not to mention future cost savings.

It has reduced Medicaid eligibility for “non-categoricals” (not parents, not disabled, not elderly) that caused the closure of some drug abuse treatment programs at the very moment we are in crisis over drug abuse.

Many areas of the state have roads that are barely passable. We have never met the legislative target of 55 percent state funding for our public schools.

That school funding shortfall went directly to Maine voters in last November’s election. By a narrow margin, a tax surcharge on income over $200,000 was approved to get the state to the elusive 55 percent mark. Despite the approval of the taxpayers, Republicans are doing their best to alter the outcome.

In addition to that party’s customary opposition to any tax increase for any reason, Republicans are objecting because of the impact on small businesses, which often report their business income through personal tax reporting. The surcharge, combined with the existing tax rate, would give Maine the second highest tax rate in the country for that bracket.

State Republicans are prepared to support the goal of the referendum (55 percent state funding for schools), but are seeking other means than the income tax surcharge to meet it. They are working up a proposal to tax online sales instead. Said Senate President Mike Thibodeau in a Maine Banker publication: “This new tax represents a huge step backwards … While the voters told us they want more money for public education, I refuse to believe that they wanted to harm our economy.”

Given declining student populations, some resist “throwing money” at education in ever-increasing amounts. One reason why increased funding is necessary is demonstrated in LD 412. This bill would “require the completion of courses in home economics and industrial arts education prior to graduation from high school.”

There may be perfectly good reasons to require these subjects, but if the legislature continues to intervene, specifying more and more “must teach” subjects, of course the cost of education is going to go up. The bill’s three sponsors are all Republicans.

With all of the push and pull of politics in our state, it is easy to overlook the contributions of those outside the political arena. The passing of David Rockefeller Sr., a summer resident of Mount Desert Island, is a milestone that deserves a moment of consideration.

This was a man who truly loved our state. With resources beyond most of our imagining and access to business and government leaders around the globe, Maine was where this unassuming philanthropist wanted to be. Happiest on a boat in Maine waters, Rockefeller was admired by many and beloved by those closest to him, the men and women who tended to his property, gardens and boat.

Just short of his 102nd birthday, Rockefeller’s acuity and stamina defied the odds. His family worried about his ability to stand and deliver at the ceremony where he turned over 1,000 acres of his land to a local land preserve. There was no need to worry. He stood, stepped to the microphone, spoke eloquently and had to be pried away to the reception that followed.

He chafed, with dignity, at the limits his family suggested to harbor his energy. He rose to every occasion and withstood the personal sorrows of a long life with grace and fortitude. We are forever enriched by the land he offered for our enjoyment and restoration, and by the many arts and education efforts he supported. His legacy will stand as one of the signature efforts in land conservation that makes Maine what it is today and what it will be well into the future.

Jill Goldthwait

Jill Goldthwait

Retired nurse and former independent Maine State Senator.
Jill Goldthwait

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