Statement by Will Neilson, Owner of Solo Bistro in Bath, Press Conference to Release Analysis of Governor LePage’s Budget

As a business person who selected the Dirigo Choice product for my business, I am concerned about the defunding of the program under Governor LePage’s budget proposal.  This concern takes two forms:

What will replace it?  Solo Bistro is a very small business, and choosing a new health insurance option will take time away from other essential management tasks.  On the positive side, a new health insurance program may cost my business less money, though I suspect that if that proves to be the case, it will be the result of reduced coverage for my employees.  And

More generally and importantly, what is going to happen to the critical efforts to control health care costs that were and are also part of the overall Dirigo program – the Quality Forum.  Because of the efforts of folks like Dr. Bob McAfee and Dr. Josh Cutler, costs have risen less than they otherwise would have and outcomes for patients have improved.  That doesn’t feel like a savings, but it is, and we need more NOT less of this sort of effort, but this aspect of Dirigo’s work is also apparently being defunded. 

Governor LePage’s administration makes noises about controlling healthcare costs, but there are serious, smart people who are well down the learning curve on these complex issues, and here I am thinking particularly of Dr. Dora Ann Mills, who are being fired to make room for a new team.  This may be politics as usual, but as a business person, I have to say that it does not give me any hope that real progress will be made in controlling healthcare costs, which at their core are an economic problem, not a political one.  I think it more likely that we will lose ground in what is in fact an urgent need for Maine businesses and Maine people because the Governor is more focused on his political needs than the what the State’s economy really needs.

Likewise, I am also concerned more generally that the Governor’s proposed budget represents the triumph of political ideology over good sense.  When the state government is already failing to bring in enough revenue to meet its obligations, reducing its revenue even more, seems questionable.  Tax cuts can and do stimulate economic activity, but they are the least focused means of doing so.  There are times when tax cuts make good economic sense, especially federal tax cuts, but when key drivers of economic health are suffering from neglect – for example, our transportation infrastructure is deteriorating and public education fails to adequately prepare students for productive participation in the modern economy, tax cuts are the wrong choice.  Even worse, the particular tax cuts proposed by the LePage administration – cuts in the estate tax and the higher income brackets – are among the least efficient at stimulating economic growth. 

The LePage administration likes to talk about jobs being the number one priority, and that’s entirely appropriate.  For my business to prosper, I need more people feeling more confident about their job prospects.  But actions speak louder than words, and the tax policies embodied in this budget are just the wrong tools at the wrong time for promoting economic growth.

Will Neilson is an attorney and entrepreneur who owns Solo Bistro in Bath.  Prior to moving to Maine in 2000, he worked for large law firms in New York City specializing in corporate finance.  He is also the Chairman of the Arrowsic Planning Board and of the Economic Restructuring Committee of Main Street Bath.