Governor proposes same old divisive policies that will hurt the middle class, grow income inequality

AUGUSTA — Governor Paul LePage delivered tired messages and divisive policy proposals that would harm the middle class and stunt income equality on Tuesday rather than using his State of the State address to offer productive solutions for Maine.

LePage resuscitated and repackaged policies that would drive down wages and undercut Maine workers and continued to make excuses for denying health care to tens of thousands of Mainers, including nearly 3,000 veterans, while attempting to spin Maine’s lagging economic growth.

“Maine needed to hear real solutions from Governor LePage. Instead, he offered the same old ideas that have already failed our state,” said Senate President Justin Alfond of Portland. “Maine needs a blueprint to grow our economy and instead Governor LePage offered pages from his divisive political playbook. Maine deserves better than bad policy and political rhetoric.”

While other New England states have fully recovered all of the jobs lost during the recession, Maine has recovered only one-third of the jobs –ranking third-worst among states, according to the non-partisan Maine Center for Economic Policy Center.

“We were hoping to hear a positive vision to move our state forward and create opportunity for all, but instead Governor LePage rolled out divisive and failed policies that will only hurt our economy and our people,” said Speaker of the House Mark Eves of North Berwick. “He continued to make the same old excuses to deny life-saving health care to tens of thousands of Mainers, including nearly 3,000 veterans. We know the consequences of not accepting federal health care dollars are deadly. Plus, we are losing out on more than $700,000 per day to create jobs and stimulate our economy – that’s more than $24 million in the last month alone.”

A new study in Health Affairs found that if Maine does not accept the federal government’s deal to expand access to health care, more than 900 Mainers will have to suffer catastrophic medical expenses and nearly 2,000 Mainers will have uncontrolled diabetes.

Governor LePage also continued to advocate for right-to-work policies, even though states with so-called “right to work” laws have higher poverty rates and higher rates of workplace deaths, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

“Right to work isn’t what it sounds like. It’s shorthand for driving down wages so hardworking Mainers earn less–$1,500 less in fact. That’s the wrong way to treat Maine workers,” said Senate Majority Leader Troy Jackson of Allagash. “We need a leader who will focus on how to shrink the income inequality not divide it further. Maine deserves a leader who will hold up the ladder of opportunity, not yank it up behind him, leaving the working poor with little to no opportunities.”

Governor LePage also proposed a ballot initiative to drastically cut taxes and state spending, similar to the TABOR initiatives rejected by Maine voters in 2006 and 2009.

“How many times does Maine have to say no to TABOR? This is nothing more than TABOR 3.0,“ said House Majority Leader Seth Berry of Bowdoinham. “Maine needs a fair tax code. Instead, Governor LePage wants to cut services and hike property taxes for the middle class yet again.”

Governor LePage continued his attacks on anti-poverty programs that help struggling families.

Nearly one in four children under the age of five now lives in poverty in Maine, an increase from the previous year, and almost 85,000 children are eligible for free or reduced-price lunches.

“While Governor LePage puts down struggling Mainers, Maine children are going to bed at night with empty tummies,” said Assistant House Majority Leader Jeff McCabe of Skowhegan. “It’s unacceptable that one in four of Maine children is hungry, and Governor LePage has failed to offer any solutions.”

Finally, Governor LePage proposed additional law enforcement resources to combat Maine’s drug problem, but failed to offer support for treatment programs.

“Governor LePage doesn’t realize we can’t arrest our way out of Maine’s drug problem,” said Assistant Senate Majority Leader Anne Haskell of Portland. “Law enforcement cannot do this alone; we need to address addiction by treating it as the disease it is or Maine will continue to lose.”

Substance abuse cost Maine $1.4 billion in 2010, up 56 percent from 2005, but spending on substance abuse prevention, treatment, and recovery accounted for only a small fraction of that cost.