By Assistant Republican Leader Amy Arata (R-New Gloucester)
Will Maine always be a high-tax state? That is the question the legislature is being asked as we vote on the state budget. This question was asked in 2005, when Janet Mills, Troy Jackson (now Senate President) and Margaret Rotundo (now Appropriations Chair) voted for a limit on state spending growth. Having served on budget committees at the municipal, school, and state levels, I know firsthand that there is a vital need for an external limit on spending growth. The demand for more spending never ends. I’m not going to bash my Democratic colleagues for their mostly-well-intentioned spending requests because most people, myself included, are sick of partisan bickering. Most people don’t care about politics, but simply want the government to provide services without over-taxing them.
The current spending limit is $9.9B, and this is enough money to fund the government without making cuts. It fully honors the obligation to Maine Care, education, and municipalities. However, the governor’s proposed budget was $10.5B (including the $200M transfer to the Highway Fund). Legally, we should have $600M in tax cuts. The partisan budget proposed this week doesn’t commit to reducing taxes. The governor’s original budget included language to bypass the spending limit. There is obvious intent to increase spending beyond the limit later this year. Knowing that we are in the minority, Republicans have been incredibly accommodating in budget negotiations. We merely asked for $200M of any additional revenue be dedicated to a small tax cut for the lowest bracket, and were flatly denied.
Republicans don’t want Maine to continue to have one of the highest tax burdens in the nation. Retirees shouldn’t have to move elsewhere due to Maine’s high tax burden. Maine children should be able to afford to stay here as adults. Mainers should keep more of their hard-earned money so they can afford what they need in light of high inflation.
At one point, Democrats agreed with Republicans that reducing taxes should be a priority. It’s disheartening to see that commitment die just as we finally have the resources to do so. There has never been a better time to reduce Maine’s tax burden without making any budget cuts. If we don’t do so now, we never will unless there ae big changes in leadership in the State House.