What’s Going on in Augusta; Both Sides Moving Toward a Middle?

By Reade Brower | Jan 29, 2015

"If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.”

--Nelson Mandela, activist and president of South Africa, Nobel laureate (1918-2013)

In Augusta lawmakers are beginning to ponder the complexities of the upcoming budget. Last week I read with interest columns by Dale Landrith Sr. in the Courier-Gazette/Camden Herald and another by John Piotti in the Belfast Republican Journal.

Both gave things to ponder, creating some conversation starters.

Landrith writes that Gov. Paul LePage is emphasizing “living wage” rather than “minimum wage”; a common theme during his recent reelection campaign. Landrith seems confused; the two are not the same.

Everyone agrees o n creating a “living wage”; both parties need to work together to do this. On the minimum wage; is Dale suggesting that the Walmarts and the McDonald’s of the world move out of Maine so that we can eliminate minimum-wage jobs? Of course not. We need to create an economy that allows all working people to make enough so that they can survive on the wages they earn, rather than finding it more palatable to not work and collect social services, or work full-time and still need assistance.

Common sense says why not just raise the minimum wage using CPI as the leveler from the last time it was raised? Can we at least keep up with inflation for the people who need it the most and are willing to work?

Landrith’s theory that raising the minimum wage will result in job loss because prices will have to rise if costs go up is an interesting theory, but it is flawed. If we pay the working poor more money, rather than losing their jobs, they will have disposable income to spend and rely less on government aid, thus lowering our taxes and again providing positive stimulus to the economy while creating jobs, rather than seeing constriction in the labor market.

Creating a business-friendly state is one area where we both agree. How to do it is a legislative challenge but, as Nike says, “just do it!”

On the other side of the conservative fence that separates some of the populace from LePage, Piotti writes that the governor’s proposed budget overhaul is “promising,” and adds that it looks a lot like an unsuccessful plan that was put forward by a non-partisan group two years ago, but stalled. With a shift in government, perhaps now this has a chance. But, is it good and does it support the people who need it the least, or the people who need it the most?

Piotti notes that this is a plan much like the one he helped get put into law in 2009, only to see later thrown out after a “call to arms by many Republicans” created a People’s Veto to repeal it.

I support and understand the net revenue neutral concept and also realize we have spending issues as well as revenue challenges. LePage agrees with this and believes that this is the difference from years past and why he believes it will get the support needed to pass his budget through the Legislature.

Piotti’s views on sales tax were enlightening; I have always considered it a regressive tax, as all classes carry the same weight, but he points out that tourist tax dollars are not regressive and wealthier people buy more stuff (and more expensive stuff) which helps to level it.

If, as Piotti suggests, we don’t criticize LePage’s tax plan and, instead, work with it to focus on keeping as much “progressivity” in the new plan as possible, then there is a chance that this will further fuel our economy and help all classes. When the poor and middle classes are not so poor, they fuel the economy and it is the wealthy who benefit when that occurs.

He also points out some of the potential potholes; expanding the sales tax rate from 5 to 6.5 percent is only part of it, while expanding the tax base to include many services and goods that are currently exempt have some cons, but what plan doesn’t?

Cutting out the $160 million given municipalities is a flip-flop from when LePage was mayor of Waterville, where he vehemently and passionately opposed this concept. But changing your stripes is not always a bad thing. However, in this case, I worry that towns must make this up by cutting services and upping property taxes, both of which carry serious concerns.

Lowering income taxes without being regressive makes Maine more competitive and its mixed bag more digestible.

In the end, if both sides can march together with the public’s best interest leading the way, perhaps this door that our governor has opened will lead us to prosperity. In the end, it will come down to trust and both sides' ability to compromise. Both are big challenges, if recent history gives us any forewarning.

At least it is movement and hopeful.

Read, write, and respond!

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Pay it sideways, pay it forward, do something bigger than yourself.

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