Spend spend spend. Tax tax tax.
You heard a lot of flowery talk about responsibly leading Maine. You heard about discipline and “investments” that would make the state better. “No, we won’t raise your taxes,” they said, “we’ll just re-prioritize state government and we’ll use money we already have to do a few things responsibly.”
You should have known better.
We are only a few weeks into the new Legislature, and the tenure of the new governor, but it is already becoming clear that two very predictable things are happening.
They want to spend an absolutely incredible amount of money, and they want to tax you more.
The new Democratic majorities in the Maine House and Senate, unleashed by their unchallenged control over government, are finally free to do what they want, and these two things represent the only real ideas they have. Spend more — a lot more — and tax more.
In the more than 2,000 bills that are to be considered this year, as well as the initial actions taken by the Mills administration, we have already seen the orgy of spending begin. What have we seen?
We’ve seen an immediate expansion of Medicaid with no long-term funding plan tied to it. We’ve seen proposals for an incredibly expensive universal pre-K program across the state. We’ve seen a destructively expensive bill pushing a “Green New Deal.” We have seen 39 proposal for bond questions, which is not only new spending, but new debt.
We’ve also seen a proposal for the re-imposition of the the 3 percent surtax, which was the basis of 2016’s Question 2 and was repealed by the Legislature. We’ve seen proposals that are almost certain to pass that will allow for the enactment of a local-option sales tax. And then this week we learn that Speaker Sara Gideon would like to raise taxes for a paid leave proposal.
Democrats feel great right now. State government is flush with cash, they have control of everything, and they’ve been desperate to enact these spending and tax proposals like this for years, but haven’t been able to. Now they can, and they just can’t help themselves.
But is that responsible? Is that what is best for Maine?
Maine is famously in the middle of a demographic crisis. We are the oldest state in the country, and getting older. Our young people are flocking out of the state, and seemingly can’t do it fast enough. More of us die than are born. The cost of living here in Maine is getting preposterous.
Former Gov. Paul LePage, whatever you think of his personality, put the state in the position to make some major, much-needed reforms to begin to change these things. Spending was controlled, entitlements reformed, and taxes were ever so slightly cut. The result has been the best economy Maine has had in five decades, and a treasury that is filled. These facts are inarguable.
As I argued a few weeks ago, this is exactly the time that Maine needs to make its move. Now is the time that it needs to get competitive with its regional neighbor, and its national competitors, and give both businesses and people a reason to relocate here, and then stay.
I’ve said it before, and I will say it again: people don’t relocate to Maine because the state mandates certain wages or benefits. They don’t come here because we tax our citizens to death to pay for some vague idea of “better schools.”
People — particularly the very young people we should care about the most — care about a vibrant economy that gives them options, the ability to earn a good, competitive salary, an interesting and exciting place, and perhaps most importantly, the cost of a place to live, which is expressed in housing costs and property taxes.
Sure schools matter, and sure benefits matter, but what nearly every policymaker in Maine fails to understand is that middle-income professionals, the people we want most, are able to self select good schools by moving to any community they want, and have already negotiated decent benefits given the nature of their work.
Nearly every friend of mine from high school who lives outside Maine today lives in a place where they get paid more money, are taxed less, and pay less money for a larger house.
That’s it. Seriously. That’s what matters.
And that is exactly what is made less likely by a never ending parade of spending proposals and tax increases that will take an already uncompetitive state, and bury it.