LePage’s tax breaks for the wealthy will undermine Maine’s economy

January 5, 2017

Lawmakers can work together to rebuild and redefine the foundations of Maine’s economy that foster opportunities for success and reward hard work, but to do so they must stop Gov. Paul LePage’s forthcoming budget proposal to give huge tax breaks to the wealthy and worsen the barriers to economic success for Maine’s working families.

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George Danby | BDN

by Sarah Austin
Bangor Daily News, January 5, 2017

A new year and a new legislature bring new opportunities to put Maine’s economy back on track. Many Mainers still struggle to find good-paying jobs, get the training they need to qualify for these jobs, send their kids to college and plan for a secure retirement seven years after the end of the Great Recession. Lawmakers can work together to rebuild and redefine the foundations of Maine’s economy that foster opportunities for success and reward hard work, but to do so they must stop Gov. Paul LePage’s forthcoming budget proposal to give huge tax breaks to the wealthy and worsen the barriers to economic success for Maine’s working families.

Historically, Maine had a strong middle class because lawmakers prioritized first-rate K-12 and higher education systems that turned out high-quality workers and entrepreneurs with skills in applied sciences such as fisheries, forestry and manufacturing. Maine’s natural resources, skilled workers and unmatched work ethic gave our state a reputation for excellence in quality products, and these good jobs and strong communities made Maine a great place to work and raise a family.

Economic and technological changes in recent years hollowed out Maine’s manufacturing industries and the state lost thousands of middle-class jobs for teachers, truck drivers, construction workers and other occupations since 2007. The state has recovered only 72 percent of the jobs lost in the recession, one of only seven other states that still have not recovered all of the jobs lost in the recession, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. A closer look at federal data show the jobs added to Maine’s economy predominantly are in low-wage sectors like food preparation and personal care services.

Over the last six years, LePage’s policy agenda focused on giving tax breaks to the wealthy while undermining our capacity to build on Maine’s strengths to solve pressing economic challenges facing the state. LePage’s tax cuts for the rich and austerity budgets squandered basic funding needed for education and infrastructure. Per-student formula spending for K-12 education is 3.1 percent below 2008 levels. Data from the state treasurer’s office show annual state bonding and leveraged federal funds for state infrastructure projects since 2011 are 35 percent below historic averages.

Developing a skilled workforce and innovative technologies requires improving education at all levels to expand opportunity for economic success to all Mainers and to increase the resources applied to developing new products that will redefine Maine industry. Strong foundations in math and sciences are built early in K-12 education and applied in university and vocational community college programs that develop Mainers into skilled craftsmen and problem-solvers. Dedicated resources for research and development of Maine’s forestry, agriculture and fisheries products in addition to new technologies are essential at a time when Maine’s manufacturing sector faces the challenge to diversify and innovate to survive.

Infrastructure development is just as important as workforce development to equip Maine’s industries for a 21st-century economy. Modern infrastructure such as broadband, energy and safe, well-maintained water and road systems is necessary to help rural-business owners get products and services to clients and to keep transportation and utility costs competitive with more urban economic centers.

Rebuilding Maine’s economy demands leadership from legislators to blaze a path forward for a strong, vibrant Maine economy. Strategic investments in education and infrastructure are essential to ensure that rural Maine and low- and middle-income families have an active role in redefining a brighter economic future for Maine. LePage’s plan to keep cutting taxes for a few wealthy Mainers may make them richer, but it will come at the expense of the investments necessary to realize broadly shared prosperity and a stronger economy for all Mainers.

Sarah Austin is a policy analyst with the Maine Center for Economic Policy.