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Stickin' it to the poor

Right wing celebrates state budget
By LANCE TAPLEY  |  June 3, 2009

The Maine Heritage Policy Center, a right-wing Portland think tank, has been bragging in news releases about how state leaders — the Democrat-controlled Legislature and Democratic governor John Baldacci — have followed its advice, approving a two-year state-government budget that, among other cuts, slashes school aid, programs for the needy, and state-employee pay. With little discussion, the $5.8-billion budget passed overwhelmingly on May 27.

Democrats said they had no alternative to budget cuts — after years of cuts — to close a huge, recession-induced shortfall between expected revenues and expenditures. They refused to consider tax increases — even on the wealthy, as some states have — or repeal tax breaks benefiting corporations and rich people, which amount to $3 billion over two years.

They never seriously considered the revenue side of the equation. “The reality of the situation is that it couldn’t pass in this Legislature,” says Representative Emily Cain (D-Orono), the Appropriations Committee cochairman, about a tax hike on the rich.

Even the Maine State Employees Association, a union, never presented an alternative to cuts that will hit its members hard, largely through 20 payless government-shutdown days and a freeze on merit raises.

“Where they get the revenue is not our call,” says Tim Belcher, MSEA director.

But alternatives were available. Take just three controversial cuts. According to the governor’s office, over the two years reductions will total $37 million in school aid, $25.6 million in children’s services, and $33.8 million to state employees. Total: $96.4 million. The state tax bureau has calculated that if the income tax were raised from 8.5 to 12 percent on just income in excess of $200,000 (for married couples), $102 million in additional cash would be raised in 2009 alone. (See “Hey Guv: Stop Slashing!” by Lance Tapley, December 31, 2008.) If the BETR (Business Equipment Tax Reimbursement) program were eliminated, $125.7 million would be raised over two years.

Under the BETR give-away, the state compensates many corporations for property taxes they don’t even pay, thanks to local tax breaks — it’s known as the “double dip.” (See “Corporate Welfare State,” by Lance Tapley, February 20, 2008.) The new budget does reduce the BETR payments by 10 percent.

The Maine Heritage Policy Center “has taken over the psyche” at the State House, says Senator Peter Mills, a Republican moderate from Somerset County.

  Topics: This Just In , Economic Development, Economic Issues, John Baldacci,  More more >
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Re: Stickin' it to the poor
So, to boil your story down, you feel it's more OKAY to stick it to the folks working hard to get ahead rather than those on welfare?  Raise the income tax on those making over $200,000, but welcome all takers putting their hands out and collecting the unemployment checks?? Ok....then....  
By Old and Wise on 06/04/2009 at 1:18:30
Re: Stickin' it to the poor
That a Democratically controlled legislature and executive branch would rather cut benefits to education, kids, health care and, in the end, small business, rather than cut corporate welfare and add a tax bracket for the wealthiest wage earners in the state is both nauseating, and to be expected by this Governor. In that regard, the Maine Heritage Policy Center has, indeed, taken over the psyche at the State House. Gosh, whatever happened to the Blueprint Project? The Engage Maine that received millions of dollars to better serve the needs of the people so they said, see previous Lance Tapley articles and letters to the editor from the Blueprint Project steering committee]? Aside from buying a some nice new digs, more staff and pay raises....I've yet to see any of that Blueprint rhetoric be realized in advancing health care for all, reforming the tax code [except for the worse], protecting our civil rights, enhancing education or even assuring our public infrastructure is improved. Where or where has the money gone other than talk?
By Kathleen McGee on 06/07/2009 at 4:30:17

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