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.

    ———

    RELATED:

  • Sifting Through The LePage FY 2016/2017 Proposed Budget: DAFS Commissioner Rosen Meets With AFA
  • Sifting Through The LePage FY 2016/2017 Proposed Budget: LePage, MDOT Roll Out Over $430 Million In Projects
  • Sifting Through the LePage FY 2016/2017 Proposed Budget: DACF Meets With AFA, AG Committees
  • Sifting Through The LePage FY 2016/2017 Proposed Budget: DHHS Meets With AFA, HHS.
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Democratic Radio Address by Rep. Matt Moonen (Portland): LePage’s lagging job creation hits younger Mainers hard

Posted on April 5, 2014. Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , |

Audio link here.

    Rep. Moonen: LePage’s lagging job creation hits younger Mainers hard
    Governor styles self as “turnaround specialist” but fails to deliver

Maine has so many good things going for it, particularly for young people establishing families. Quality of life, engaged communities, vibrant schools and amazing outdoor opportunities – just to name a few. But it’s getting harder for young people to live, work and play in Maine – especially the work part under the administration of Governor Paul LePage.

matt moonenGood morning, I’m Representative Matt Moonen of Portland.

I’m a member of the Legislature’s Youth Caucus. We’re a bipartisan group of lawmakers focused on policies that affect younger Mainers and their futures in our state.

It’s been clear for a while that our economy is not where it should be.

It’s ironic because the governor touts his background as a businessman – a “turnaround specialist.” In his State of the State address, he told the people of Maine, “Having spent my career in business, I know what grows an economy.”

A new report confirms that as Maine’s CEO, the governor has not delivered on job creation. The report provides another troubling insight: Mainers in their prime working years are really hurting under the governor’s watch.

You’ve probably already heard about how Maine is far behind in job creation. We’ve been scraping along the bottom with each new set of employment data that comes out. The latest numbers say we’re currently ranked 49th in the nation. Forth-ninth!

But did you know that younger Mainers are having such a hard time? For this group, employment levels have not improved since the end of the recession.

This job creation problem has a large ripple effect. These are Mainers who are trying to establish themselves and build solid foundations for their families. Without job opportunities how likely is it that they can buy their first homes or invest in their children’s futures? Forget about extra pocket money to boost local economies.
Without opportunity, how can we expect young people to stay in the state or return home? This is an important question, especially as we address the challenges of an increasingly aging population. Top economist Charlie Colgan has warned that this demographic trend would be disastrous for the state’s workforce, competitiveness and economy.

Working-age Mainers – and the entire state – need the governor to step up and deliver on job creation.

Maine has recovered less than half of the jobs lost in the recession. We’re doing the worst in New England, which has recovered 96 percent. The nation, meanwhile, is back up to 93 percent.

If you were a shareholder in a firm led by the governor, what would you think about this performance?

Democrats have put forward solutions to address our workforce and economic needs. Solutions like early childhood education, college affordability and incentives to encourage young Mainers stay in-state after college.

And a jobs bond package from the bipartisan workforce committee would spur job creation by small businesses and invest in areas like the marine economy where Maine has a competitive advantage.

What has our CEO been up to?

He’s given a $1 million no-bid contract to a political ally for shoddy work; lost $20 million for the state’s psychiatric hospital by ignoring federal law; given a failing transportation contractor an extra $1.2 million without a reason; and prompted a federal investigation by interfering in unemployment hearings.

He’s failed on a major part of his job description: working with the Legislature on a supplemental budget. Instead of making a proposal as Maine governors are supposed to, he essentially punted.

This is no way to lead. Young Mainers, their families and their communities deserve more from their CEO.

Thank you for tuning in. This is Representative Matt Moonen of Portland. Have a wonderful weekend.

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UPDATED x2: Maine House Votes Down Controversial Religious Discrimination Bill LD 1428, 89-52

Posted on February 20, 2014. Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , |

Rep. Andrew McLean (D-Gorham) addresses colleagues during LD 1428 debate.

Rep. Andrew McLean (D-Gorham) addresses colleagues during LD 1428 debate.

12:45pm UPDATE: House just voted 89-52 to accept the Judicial Committee “ONTP” (Ought Not to Pass) recommendation moments ago, 89-52.

This was the final vote on LD 1428; it is now dead.

Roll call vote shows 5 GOP members broke with their party to join Democrats: Reps. Beaulieu of Auburn, Campbell of Orrington, Libby of Waterboro, MacDonald of Old Orchard Beach and Maker of Calais. 2 House Democrats voted for the bill: Rep. Stan Short (D-Pittsfield) and Steve Stanley (D-Medway).

Over 2 dozen rose to speak on the measure in a lengthy floor debate. Some quotes:

    Rep. Matt Moonen (D-Portland): “Please vote to end the war on gay people in our state.”

    Rep. Justin Chenette (D-Saco): “Religious freedom is important, but this bill makes me feel like a second-class citizen… Name me an issue in Maine — I still haven’t heard one. There isn’t an issue. This is a bill searching for a problem, rather than solving one. This wastes taxpayer money… It’s fiscally responsible to oppose it.”

UPDATE #2 (1:45pm): Maine House Democrats issued a press release with more quotes from legislators:

    “This is not a bill about religious freedom; it will only create religious discrimination,” said Rep. Charles Priest of Brunswick, who chairs the Legislature’s Judiciary Committee. “Maine’s law and constitution has strong protections for religious freedom. This bill is not necessary.”

    “This fight will continue across the country. Many states still do not have a human rights law that covers sexual orientation. But in Maine our voters have settled this, ” said Rep. Matt Moonen of Portland, during the floor debate.

    “This bill moves Maine backwards on equality and women’s rights,” said Rep. Mattie Daughtry of Brunswick. “This is not religious freedom, it is legalized hate.”

National coverage here:

1. Breaking: Maine Rejects ‘Religious Freedom’ License To Discriminate Against Gays

2. Maine House Rejects ‘Right to Discriminate’ Bill

Reminder: The Senate voted down the bill 19-16 on Tuesday. The one Democrat who voted for the bill with the Republicans was Senator John Tuttle.

Link to House video here; session starts at 10 am. LD 1428, “An Act To Protect Religious Freedom” is listed as item 6-3 in the Divided Reports of the House Calendar.

Via press release this morning:

      Maine House to take up controversial religious discrimination bill
      Discrimination carve-out would undercut human rights, women’s rights

    Augusta — The Maine House today will take up a controversial bill that would undercut human rights protections and women’s rights by creating a loophole in the state’s strong non-discrimination laws.

    The religious discrimination bill, LD 1428, would carve out an exception for religious beliefs in the state’s non-discrimination laws, such as the Maine’s Human Rights Act.

    “Religion should never be used as a cloak to discriminate,” said Speaker of the House Mark Eves of North Berwick, whose father served as a pastor in the U.S. military. Eves attained his master’s degree in marriage and family therapy from the Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary.

    The Maine Senate rejected the GOP-sponsored measure earlier this week in a largely party-line vote of 19-16.

    “Maine has led the country with our anti-discrimination laws,” said House Majority Leader Seth Berry of Bowdoinham. “This bill is a big step backwards. There should be no exceptions or loopholes when it comes to discrimination.”

    Maine is one of 32 states that does not allow for religious exceptions in non-discrimination laws. In the last 10 years, only six states have enacted similar bills.

    Nationally laws like LD 1428 have been used to infringe upon women’s access to health care. In Texas a municipal bus driver refused to drive a woman to a reproductive health clinic on his bus route. At the federal level, corporations are trying to use the religious exception or loophole to avoid providing employees with health care that covers reproductive health.

    “This measure would take Maine backwards on women’s rights and equality,”
    said Rep. Jeff McCabe of Skowhegan the Assistant Majority Leader. “The Maine legislature and courts have a track record of being careful and deliberate about protecting religious liberty while balancing other rights. This bill is not necessary. ”

    During the public hearing on the bill, one survivor of the genocide in Rwanda, spoke about his experiences coming to America to escape persecution and asked the committee to oppose the bill.

    The bill has met with strong opposition from a broad group of organizations, including ACLU of Maine, Coalition for Maine Women, Equality Maine, Family Planning Association of Maine, Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders, Maine AFL-CIO, Maine Choice Coalition, Maine Coalition Against Sexual Assault, Maine Coalition to End Domestic Violence, Maine Education Association, Maine LGBT Coalition, Maine Medical Association, Maine People’s Alliance, Maine School Management Association, Maine State Employees Association, Maine Women’s Lobby, Religious Coalition Against Discrimination, Secular Coalition.

    ###

*Related: Maine Senate Votes 19-16 Against LD 1428, “An Act To Protect Religious Freedom”

*(UPDATED) Maine Takes Up LD 1428, “An Act To Protect Religious Freedom”

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