Alternatives to cuts
To the editor:
I sent a message recently to legislators on the Maine Appropriations Committee. I called on the Republicans to join the Democrats to oppose the state budget cuts as proposed by a governor who was elected by a minority of Maine people and who wants to balance the budget on the backs of our neediest citizens. Many of my points echoed editorial positions taken by this newspaper and the Portland Press Herald.
The governor’s proposal is not the only way and certainly not the best way to address the budget deficit. It will make our fiscal and physical problems worse in the long run as described in an article and editorial in this newspaper.
Prevention programs funded by tobacco settlement funds — not taxpayer money — benefit all Mainers and have saved our state an estimated $4.27 billion over the past 10 years. They have reduced the high school smoking rate by 64 percent and reduced alcohol use from 71 percent to 48 percent between 1997 and 2007.
The Healthy Maine Partnerships (HMPs) have also leveraged millions of dollars in grants and private funds that have been added to Maine's economy. The most recent example is a Community Transformation Grant of $1.3 million each for five years. Maine will not be able to compete for, or manage these grants without the HMPs, our grassroots network of school and community coalitions.
I asked Appropriations Committee members to consider alternative way to balance the budget:
— Look at ways to reform and control costs for MaineCare. Many other states have taken time to do this thoughtfully.
— Reverse or reduce tax cuts for Maine’s wealthiest who will receive $2,810 each (while you want to cut services to Maine’s seniors and working poor).
— Look to the entire state budget, not just DHHS for cost savings.
— Close the tobacco tax loopholes and raise taxes on tobacco, alcohol or soda. We know that this approach will decrease the use of harmful substances and provide revenue to offset the amount of the cuts. For example, a one penny tax on a gallon of sugar sweetened beverages would generate $ 55 million based on 2012 consumption. For less than 5 cents per gallon this tax could cover the entire deficit.
I encourage others to make their views known to their legislators immediately as the Appropriations Committee is discussing these cuts now. You can find their contact information at http://maine.gov/legis/house/townlist.htm.
If the Republicans insist on following Gov. Paul LePage’s shortsighted approach, ask how they propose to help provide health care for people who can’t afford health insurance. What is their plan for dealing with an unanticipated emergency such as H1N1? And how will they prepare disadvantaged children to be ready for school without Home Visiting and HeadStart?
The governor can’t be serious about his proposal to close schools that will further reduce our ability to prepare healthy adults and capable workers.