Public Responds to LePage FY 2016-17 Biennial Budget (Day 1)

Posted on February 18, 2015. Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

Governor LePage rolls out FY 2016-17 biennial budget proposal

Governor LePage rolls out FY 2016-17 biennial budget proposal

Back in January, Maine Governor Paul LePage and members of his administration presented the FY 2016-2017 biennial budget proposal to the state. Since then, various members of the administration have met with the 127th Legislature’s Appropriations and Financial Affairs standing committee (with other committees, as applicable) on multiple occasions, met with the public, and held numerous press conferences to sway not just members of the public but also their own party to support the proposals.

Now, it is the public’s turn to speak up. Maine House Democrats shared the following summarized testimony presented to the committee on Tuesday.

    Adam Lee, Lee Auto Malls: “The idea of lowering the tax rate for the wealthiest members of society is misguided…When my taxes are lowered it leaves less to be distributed to the municipalities. I get a tax cut and everyone else in town gets to chip in to pay for it through higher property taxes. Doesn’t sound fair? It isn’t…. My business depends on a strong middle class. I sell good old fashioned Dodges, GMC trucks, Nissans, and used cars, as well as other brands. A strong middle class is not helped by tax breaks for the rich. Competitive rates, and tax breaks for the middle class is much more useful. A skilled workforce is the one of the single largest factors determining where a business locates. Invest in education, training, our University and community College System.”

    Veteran and Nurse Richard Bissell of Bangor: “I’m here to oppose these drastic cuts proposed by the Governor for wealthy Mainers and corporations, especially when those cuts come at the expense of the middle class and poor Mainers…Property taxes are an impossible cost for many Mainers, from young couples and families that are in their first home up to seniors try to age in their homes.”

    Small Business Owner Carson Lynch of Gorham Grind: “This plan would cut taxes for the very wealthy while effectively raising taxes on the lower and middle income Mainers. Not only is this morally wrong, it will hurt Maine small businesses and ship money out of state….My small business runs on very small margins. I’m not a Starbucks or Dunkin Donuts. A change to Maine’s tax code could make or break my business.”

    Clam Digger Skip Worcester of Hermon: “I’m here today because I am deeply concerned with the Governor’s proposed cuts to income and corporate taxes in Maine…Corporations are making record profits in Maine but they are not paying their fair share in taxes – their taxes have been less and less and their profits have been higher and higher, it’s the reverse for us middle and lower classes. Our wages have stayed practically the same while the cost of living, heating and eating have gone up.”

Among others who spoke to the committee was Davida Ammerman of Madison, whose testimony is below.

    Representative Rotundo, Senator Hamper, Representative Goode, and Senator McCormick, thank you for having me here today to speak with you.

    I am here today to ask you to oppose the cuts to corporate and income tax in the Governor’s proposed budget. With this proposal, we will see the divisions increase between rural areas that are not so affluent and able to carry the cost, am\nd more affluent ones that will. In a town like Madison where I live, the option to tax non-profits is not a viable source of revenue, forcing the town to increase property taxes to continue being viable.

    Without a fair and balanced budget we will be forcing older people to lose their homes, and rural town are going to have a hard time keeping up with basic services like roads, law enforcement, and schools. Being on fixed income, it is hard to be able to conceive of paying more in sales and property taxes, and for the increase in services that I will need as I age. The Governor’s proposal puts revenue at recession era levels, and it doesn’t add up so that means we are going to see more cuts at the state level in future years. This creates a huge amount of uncertainty for us aging Mainers- we don’t know what we can count on. I don’t know that I will be able to keep my house, or if I will be able to pass it on to my children as planned.

    On the other end this is going to be very hard and discouraging for young people in Maine as well. Our daughter, a single mom just barely making ends meet, would have to sell her house that she has worked so hard to get if her property taxes go, if the Homestead Exemption is cut for Mainers under 65, and she loses the chance to deduct her mortgage payment. Young kids that are already fighting student loans and low wages will lose their chance to get ahead. So many kids are just getting by already- this is making the American Dream even more unattainable.

    If we are going to start taxing non-profits and cutting so many programs in the state budget, how is that going to affect funding homeless shelters and other organizations providing services for people who are just barely getting by and depending on these services for life support?

    I hate to see the American Dream being put out of reach for so many of the population.

    Thank You.

Quinn Gormley of Portland was kind enough to share her prepared testimony as well:

    My name is Quinn Gormley. I’m currently an undergraduate student at the University of Southern Maine in Portland, but I grew up in Damariscotta, where my father, a bus driver, and my mother, the director of our local library, still live and work today.

    For most of my life, my family has proudly belonged to the working class in this state. Growing up, my parents taught me the value of a hard day’s work, as my mother pulled sixty or more hour weeks, often with little to no pay, to keep the doors of the library open, and as my dad, who for my entire life has had to balance three different jobs just to help us make ends meet, waking up at 5 in the morning to drive a school bus, and often working late into the evening to get everything done.

    During the recession we were lucky. A school always needs bus drivers, and the library is valued by our community, so my parents managed to keep their jobs. Many in our town were not so lucky. And I so, as I read the details of this new budget, I am concerned. I am concerned that this budget is shifting the burden onto Middle Class families and families like my own are not going to be able to afford it.

    As a student who is used to examining things critically, when I look at this budget, I see the governor’s tax cuts as forced false choices that prioritize income and estate tax cuts for Maine’s wealthiest individuals and large corporations at the expense of property tax relief for families like my own.

    Every dollar in tax cuts is a dollar that will have to be made up for with spending cuts. It just doesn’t make sense to prioritize tax cuts that disproportionately benefit the wealthy and large corporations and leave the school bus drivers and librarians to fend for their own.

    As I navigate college with the hope to stay in Maine once I graduate, this budget does not seem to pave the way for a state with increased job growth, in contrast, states that have pursued this path in recent years have actually seen worse, not better, economic performance than neighboring states. They’ve had to cut state investments in education, and workforce training. I want to stay, work, and live in Maine but when my state pushes policies that hurt education, job training, and the middle class, I doubt that I can.

    This budget is the wrong path for Maine. It benefits a small percentage of Mainer’s, and the costs will be passed onto those hard working Mainers who are just trying to make it work. And so, I urge you; please oppose the cuts to corporate and income tax in this proposed budget. Thank you for your attention and all you do.

Democrats on the AFA committee later released their own statements:

    Rep. Peggy Rotundo, the House Chair of the Appropriations Committee: “We haven’t been getting the the full story about Governor LePage’s budget. I’m deeply concerned that the ratcheting down of state revenues in the out years will mean fewer dollars in the future for workforce development, education, and many of the very things businesses and workers say we need to succeed. We want a tax reform plan that is paid for now and in the future so we don’t jeopardize our support for Maine families, our schools, or workforce, or for our local firefighters and police.”

    Senator Linda Valentino (Saco): “I support tax reform but this budget sidelines Maine families at the expense of the wealthy and big corporations. We heard a lot of concerns from people today about the elimination of the mortgage interest deduction, the Homestead exemption, and the property tax deduction. If these deductions are eliminated, it will jeopardize Maine’s economic recovery.”

Maine Center for Economic Policy released the following reactions to the budget proposal and information. MECEP economist Joel Johnson’s full testimony can be found here. But these portions jump out:

MECEP economist Joel Johnson speaks before joint AFA, Taxation committees

MECEP economist Joel Johnson speaks before joint AFA, Taxation committees

    The combined fiscal impact of these tax cuts in FY 2019 is about $677 million per year, according to Maine Revenue Services. That’s a tax cut equal to 19% of General Fund revenue forecast for that year. The sales tax increases in the Governor’s budget don’t cover the cost of that tax cut, and as a result, the state must cut spending by $266 million in FY 2019. That spending cut will grow into subsequent fiscal years as the corporate income tax cut fully phases in.

    Approximately $167 million of the governor’s proposed spending cuts will come in the form of the elimination of revenue sharing to towns and cities. Faced with a loss of revenue sharing and struggling to meet obligations to fund K-12 education, state and local governments will have to raise taxes and/or cut spending. That means higher taxes and/or fewer services like snowplowing, public safety, road maintenance, libraries, and parks. The governor’s proposal saves an additional $12 million by eliminating the homestead exemption for most Mainers.

    The governor’s proposal fails to specify the remaining $90 million in state spending cuts it encompasses. In fact, the Governor’s budget only specifies a two-year spending plan while proposing tax cuts that span multiple budget periods. The income and estate tax cuts proposed in the Governor’s budget, combined with revamped arbitrary limits on state appropriation growth, will prevent the state from reaching the statutorily-mandated goal of funding 55% of the cost of K-12 education in the state any time in the near future. Yet the Governor’s budget proposal includes a target of 55% for Fiscal Year 2017 and beyond. That is not a credible, achievable objective given the income and estate tax cuts included in a different section of the same budget proposal.

Other points raised by MECEP for consideration:

    1. The governor’s tax cuts aren’t paid for and are fiscally irresponsible. They set Maine up for future fiscal crises, which will lead to deep cuts to education, health care, job training, and other foundational components of a strong, sustainable economy.

    • By fiscal year 2019, the governor’s plan cuts income, estate, and corporate taxes by $690 million and raises sales and use taxes by $424 million. That leaves a shortfall of $266 million. The governor proposes to make up this shortfall, in part, by eliminating $167 million in state aid to towns for local public services. Legislators will have to make up the remaining balance by additional spending cuts beyond those that have been enacted over recent years.
    • The governor’s plan locks in recession-era levels of revenue putting state spending as a share of the economy at historic lows. That means state funding for education, health care, and other services will continue to fall behind even as the economy recovers. It also means that Maine will have virtually no capacity to absorb unanticipated future expenses or to maintain critical public investments when the next economic downturn occurs.

    2. The governor’s tax cuts force false choices and prioritize income and estate tax cuts for Maine’s wealthiest individuals and large corporations at the expense of property tax relief for middle-class Mainers.

    • Every dollar in tax cuts is a dollar that legislators will have to make up by either raising other taxes or with cuts in spending for education and other services. At a time when the state is already failing to fulfill its commitments to Maine’s students and communities it doesn’t make sense to place a higher priority on tax cuts that disproportionately benefit the wealthy and large corporations. For example, eliminating the estate tax will cost over $37 million by fiscal year 2019 and benefit approximately 150 of the wealthiest estates. This potentially comes at the expense of making progress in funding K-12 education, supporting prescription drug assistance to low-income seniors, maintaining cost-effective health care prevention programs, or providing college scholarships to Maine’s future workers.
    • Part of the governor’s plan includes eliminating the Homestead Exemption for Maine residents under age 65 which is equivalent to raising property taxes between $120 and $160 for hundreds of thousands of Maine families. Additional property tax increases are likely for middle-class Mainers as communities are forced to pick up more of the costs of K-12 education, public safety, and road maintenance as called for in the governor’s budget.
    • While we don’t oppose cutting taxes, we believe it can be done in a way that doesn’t force false choices and that distributes the benefits more evenly across all income groups. Because this plan doesn’t maximize opportunities to export taxes to out-of-state visitors and part-year residents and places higher priority on tax cuts that deliver the greatest benefits to wealthy individuals and large corporations, it falls short in terms of securing adequate revenue and in improving the overall fairness of Maine’s tax system.

    3. The governor’s tax plan is a failed prescription for growing Maine’s economy.

    Note: As there will be weeks of hearings and work on the budget proposal, this will be part of a series of posts. This week’s testimonies will be broken up into daily installments of the highlights.

    ———

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Sifting Through the LePage FY 2016/2017 Proposed Budget: DACF Meets With AFA, AG Committees

Posted on January 25, 2015. Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , |

whitcombMaine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry Commissioner Walter Whitcomb met before a joint meeting of the 127th Legislture’s standing Appropriations and Agricultural Committees on January 20th to discuss Governor LePage’s 2016/17 biennial budget’s impacts upon his department in a surprising overhaul of the department, including elimination of 25 Maine Forest Ranger positions, 12 of which are currently vacant, and creation of new law enforcement positions.

    Walter E. Whitcomb, commissioner of the Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry, said in a statement that the budget “represents an important shift in public resources to provide more comprehensive forestry protection and better meet the wide range of forest management threats. It also addresses safety issues raised last year through a proposal to arm rangers.”

    Whitcomb said he participated in budget discussions and is comfortable with the direction his department may be headed.

    “I think what we’re causing to happen is an investigation of what we want our rangers to do,”
    Whitcomb said in an interview. “And I think we’re getting to that point … We want them to be doing more of those firefighter duties, and less of the chasing bad guys.”

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Maine Senate Takes Up EBT- TANF- GA Bills LDs 1829, 1822, 1820, 1842, 1815 and 1844 (VIDEOS)

Posted on April 8, 2014. Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

(NOTE: All of these will be separated and written up over the rest of the week. In the meanwhile, for the sake of sharing quickly, here are all 44 video clips taken during the Monday afternoon/ evening second session in order of debate.)

1. LD 1829, “An Act To Require the Department of Health and Human Services To Report Annually on Investigations and Prosecutions of False Claims Made under the MaineCare, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families and Food Supplement Programs”.
ROLL CALL: 21 Yeas – 14 Nays

HHS Chair Sen. Margaret Craven Introduces LD 1829 to Senate

Sen. James Hamper (R-Oxford) Opposing LD 1829

Sen. Colleen Lachowicz (D-Kennebec) Supporting LD 1829

Asst Minority Leader Sen. Roger Katz Opposing LD 1829

Sen. Geoff Gratwick (D-Penobscot) Supporting LD 1829

2. LD 1822, “An Act To Increase Integrity in the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families Program through Restriction of Expenditures”.
ROLL CALL: 18 Yeas – 17 Nays

HHS Chair Sen. Margaret Craven Introduces LD 1822 (OTP as amended by H-787) to Senate

Sen. James Hamper (R-Oxford) Opposing LD 1822 as amended by H-787

Sen. Colleen Lachowicz (D-Kennebec) Supporting H-787 amended LD 1822

Asst Minority Leader Roger Katz (R-Kennebec) Opposing LD 1822 as amended by H-787

Sen. John Patrick (D-Oxford) Offers SAS 505 to amend LD 1822

Sen. James Hamper (R-Oxford) opposing LD 1822 SAS-505

HHS Chair Sen. Margaret Craven (D-Androscoggin) Supporting LD 1822 as amended by SAS-505

Sen. Chris Johnson (D-Lincoln) Supporting LD 1822 as amended by SAS-505 (PT 1)

Asst Minority Leader Roger Katz (R-Kennebec) Opposing LD 1822 CAH 787, SAS 505

Sen. Andre Cushing (R-Penobscot) Opposing LD 1822 as amended by SAS-505

Sen. John Patrick (D-Oxford) Supporting LD 1822 as amended by SAS-505

Senate Minority Leader Mike Thibodeau (R-Waldo) opposing LD 1822 as amended by SAS-505

Sen. Colleen Lachowicz (D-Kennebec) Supporting LD 1822 as amended by SAS-505

Sen. David Burns (R-Washington) opposing LD 1822 as amended by SAS-505

Senate Majority Leader Troy Jackson (D-Aroostook) Supporting LD 1822 as amended by SAS-505 (PT 1)

Senate Majority Leader Troy Jackson (D-Aroostook) concludes supporting remarks on LD 1822, SAS-505

Sen. Chris Johnson (D-Lincoln) Supporting LD 1822 as amended by SAS-505 (PT 2)

3. LD 1820, “An Act To Reduce Abuse of the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families Program through Restriction of Electronic Benefits Transfers”.
ROLL CALL: Yeas 20 – Nays 15

HHS Chair Sen. Margaret Craven Introduces LD 1820 as amended to Senate

Sen. James Hamper (R-Oxford) opposing LD 1820

Sen. Chris Johnson (D-Lincoln) supporting LD 1820

4. LD 1842, “An Act To Amend the Laws Governing the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families Program”.
ROLL CALL: Yeas 20 – Nays 15

HHS Chair Sen. Margaret Craven Introduces LD 1842 to Senate w/ ONTP committee recommendation

Sen. James Hamper (R-Oxford) Opposing ONTP on LD 1842

Sen. Eloise Vitelli (D-Sagadahoc) Supporting “ONTP” on LD 1842

Asst Minority Leader Roger Katz (R-Kennebec) Opposing “ONTP” on LD 1842

Sen. Colleen Lachowicz (D-Kennebec) Supporting “ONTP” on LD 1842

Sen. Rebecca Millett (D-Cumberland) supporting ONTP on LD 1842

Sen. Margaret Craven (D-Androscoggin) supporting “ONTP” on LD 1842

Sen. Chris Johnson (D-Lincoln) Supporting “ONTP” on LD 1842

5. LD 1815, “An Act To Require a Work Search for Job-ready Applicants for Benefits under the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families Program”.
ROLL CALL: 20 Yeas – 15 Nays

HHS Chair Sen. Margaret Craven Introduces LD 1815 (“ONTP”) to Senate

Sen. James Hamper (R-Oxford) Opposing ONTP on LD 1815

Sen. Ron Collins (R-York) Opposing ONTP on LD 1815

Asst Minority Leader Roger Katz (R-Kennebec) opposing ONTP on LD 1815

Asst Majority Leader Anne Haskell (D-Cumberland) supporting ONTP on LD 1815

Sen. Margaret Craven (D-Androscoggin) supporting ONTP on LD 1815

6. LD 1844, “An Act To Increase Local Responsibility for General Assistance”.
ROLL CALL: 22 Yeas – 12 Nays

HHS Chair Sen. Margaret Craven Introduces LD 1844 (ONTP) to Senate

Sen. Geoff Gratwick (D-Penobscot) supporting LD 1844 ONTP recommendation

Sen. John Cleveland (D-Androscoggin) supporting LD 1844 ONTP recommendation

Sen. Doug Thomas (R-Somerset) opposing LD 1844 ONTP recommendation

Sen. Chris Johnson (D-Lincoln) supporting LD 1844 ONTP recommendation

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Silly Season Continues in Augusta, As Fredette Mansplains and Hamper Croons Hotel California

Posted on June 18, 2013. Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , |

UPDATED: Rep. Heather Sirocki (R-Scarborough)’s “American Pie” speech had some jaws dropping in the House.

Some days, one only needs a camera and popcorn when reporting on the Legislature…

MPA captured this moment from the floor of the House, in which Minority Leader Ken Fredette (R-Newport) explained in an especially sexist and misogynistic, out-dated and irrelevant way his objections to LD 1066, the Medicaid expansion bill, that later went viral:

    “As I listen to the debate today and earlier debate on this bill, I can’t help but think of a title of a book, Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus. And it’s a book about the fact that men sort of think one way in their own brain, in their own world. And women think another way in their own brain and in their own world. And it really talks about the way that men and women can do a better job at communicating.

    Because if you listen to the debate today, in my mind — a man’s mind — I hear two fundamental issues. From the other side of the aisle, I hear the conversation being about: free. ‘This is free, we need to take it, and it’s free. And we need to do it now.’ And that’s the fundamental message that my brain receives. Now, my brain, being a man’s brain, sort of thinks differently, because I say, well, it’s not — if it’s free, is it really free? Because I say, in my brain, there’s a cost to this.”

MPA, who shared the above clip, had this response from organizer Jennie Pirkl:

    “This isn’t about women and men; it’s about life and death. Rep. Fredette would probably say that I only think this way because of my ‘woman’s brain’, but I find it incredibly distasteful for him to use offensive, gender-based stereotypes to advance his anti-health care agenda,” said Maine People’s Alliance Health Care Organizer Jennie Pirkl.

    “What’s more, he’s lying about the bill. Even the conservative Heritage Foundation admits that accepting federal health care funding will save the state $690 million over the next decade while providing health care coverage for 70,000 more Maine people.”

To say that Fredett’e choice in tone and language in delivering his floor speech got some national attention would be an understatement… Think Progress picked it up immediately and from there, well… Jezebel had a bunch of fun with it!

Democratic Underground was next… and then Rachel Maddow:

    For the record, Fredette, the leader of Maine Republicans in the state House, did not appear to be kidding.

    After having watched it a couple of times, I’m still not sure what this state lawmaker is trying to say. Does he believe women are confused by federal-state partnerships in providing health care benefits? Does he think men necessarily oppose Medicaid expansion because of their male brains? Fredette certainly seems to be under the impression that he — with his “man’s mind” — is better able to understand health care costs that women apparently can’t see.

    And if that is what Fredette believes, there may be something wrong with his brain.

    As for the politics of this, I’m beginning to wonder if some kind of secret memo went out to Republican policymakers, telling them to be as offensive as possible so that women vote Democratic in even larger numbers. Just consider the recent evidence.

    For what it’s worth, later in the day, Fredette apologized for his “inartful” remarks. His man’s brain apparently came to realize he’d made an embarrassing mistake.

Rep. Diane Rusell, wearing her  "FIGHT LIKE A GIRL" pin on her lapel.

Rep. Diane Rusell, wearing her “FIGHT LIKE A GIRL” pin on her lapel.

Then we have Slate. And Huffington Post. And Glamour.

Political Wire. National Memo.

This list goes on and on…

As Rep. Diane Russell (D-Portland) said, blasting Fredette’s remarks:

    “I thought it was 2013, not 1813. Apparently, I was wrong.”

Word to the wise: Do NOT click on the Jezebel link and read that while recording video live on the floor of the House, like I did- think I bit right through my lip, trying to keep quiet!

Onward to the Senate…

This has got to be one of the strangest moments I personally have witnessed, bar none, in the Senate. Not sure if Sen. James Hamper (R-Oxford) was denouncing Medicaid expansion or if he thought it was Karaoke Night!

Who would have thought that an Eagles song, released in 1976, was in actuality penned as a take-down argument against Medicaid expansion…

The quoted lyrics:

    “On a dark desert highway, cool wind in my hair
    Warm smell of colitas, rising up through the air
    Up ahead in the distance, I saw a shimmering light
    My head grew heavy and my sight grew dim
    I had to stop for the night”

    “There she stood in the doorway;
    I heard the mission bell
    And I was thinking to myself,
    “This could be Heaven or this could be Hell”

    “Mirrors on the ceiling,
    The pink champagne on ice
    And she said “We are all just prisoners here, of our own device”

    “And in the master’s chambers,
    They gathered for the feast
    They stab it with their steely knives,
    But they just can’t kill the beast”

    “Last thing I remember, I was
    Running for the door
    I had to find the passage back
    To the place I was before
    “Relax, ” said the night man,
    “We are programmed to receive.
    You can check-out any time you like,
    But you can never leave! ”

Oh, to have one of the Democratic Senators stand and deliver the line: “You can’t hide your lying eyes”… or even better, this.

A reminder: Session supposedly ends this week. Stay tuned!

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