With tax reform in the forefront of public debate, the Legislature’s failure to address Maine’s high tax burden may be a deciding factor in November’s elections. Speaker Patrick Colwell’s statements in the June 3 Bangor Daily News indicate that this reality has not been overlooked. He scrambled to cover up the inability of the majority Democrats to address the tax burden and to pass a bond package.
Since the end of the legislative session in April, the speaker has continually blamed the Republicans for the failure of the Democrats to come together on tax reform and bond plans. It is the easy route to take – pointing the finger at someone else – but Mainers should expect more from their political leaders.
Just 18 months ago the speaker was boasting about the Democrats’ control of the House of Representatives, the Senate and the governorship and the ability of the Democrats to pass any and all legislation they wanted with a simple majority vote. “We scored the hat trick here in Maine,” Colwell said, affirming his party’s control of state government.
What the speaker failed to recognize was that with power comes responsibility and accountability. Not only did the 2002 elections provide Democrats with legislative control, they also bestowed the risk and responsibility for any failings. Mainers have a clear picture of who is in control and who is implementing the policy in the State House. Unlike when there is a divided government, the public can clearly assign responsibility for inaction.
Now with the light shining down on the glaring inability of the Democrats to craft and implement a sound tax reform package, it comes as no surprise the speaker is running for cover. Well, there is no cover for the speaker and the Democrats because they have control in Augusta with the ability to pass nearly any legislation they desire. Their shortcomings on tax reform clearly spell out the willingness – or lack thereof – to address Maine’s high tax burden.
Democrats could have passed a tax reform plan without a single Republican vote. So why is the speaker blaming Republicans? It is a ridiculous and irresponsible assertion.
Republicans offered a sound tax reform proposal that was bold, forward thinking, and guaranteed to lower Mainers’ taxes. The comprehensive tax reform and relief package was released on Feb. 12 and addressed Maine’s onerous tax burden by lowering property and income taxes. Unlike other tax reform proposals, the Republican plan offered real relief without resorting to tax and fee increases by using limits on the growth in state spending. The plan would have provided tax relief for every Mainer. The majority Democrats simply dismissed this plan and refused to have it considered for a vote by the Legislature.
With the bond package Republicans had considerably more input. Unlike a tax reform plan, which only needs a simple majority vote, a bond package needs a super-majority, two-thirds vote. Recognizing the state’s serious financial situation, Republicans entered into bond negotiations with the goal of funding the state’s necessary projects while maintaining fiscal restraint. With the state’s finances in mind, Republicans proposed a $30 million bond package that included funding for the Waldo-Hancock Bridge, essential environmental programs, and added another year of funding to the Land for Maine’s Future Program.
As with tax reform, the Democrats dismissed the Republican proposal in favor of a $120 million bond package. Republicans withheld their support for this package because it was fiscally irresponsible. Mainers should be thankful of the restraint shown on the part of Republicans. Just last week, Standard & Poor’s, the nation’s oldest credit-rating institution, downgraded Maine’s credit score saying the fiscal security of the state was uncertain.
Maine faces some serious upcoming challenges. There are two citizen-initiated referendums that attempt to address the high tax burden that affects Maine residents. For too long the people of Maine have been struggling to make ends meet under one of the highest tax burdens in the nation. Democrats have not heard this cry or are simply ignoring it.
It is time to have a majority controlling the Legislature that does not shirk their responsibility to find ways to lower taxes on Mainers. Republicans are ready to take the lead role in a fiscally responsible state government. There will be no excuses and no finger pointing, just more money in the pockets of every Mainer.
Rep. David Bowles serves in the 121st Maine Legislature representing the people of Sanford and is the Assistant House Republican Leader.