AUGUSTA – Maine is the proud home of many hardworking, successful people: dedicated teachers and coaches who inspire our kids; caring nurses and doctors who comfort our sick and elderly; resourceful fishermen and farmers who feed us; creative artists who enrich our everyday lives; and loving parents raising the next generation of Mainers.

Unfortunately, what Maine does not have is enough high wage earning residents. That’s a big economic and jobs problem for the state.

The U.S. Census shows that only 10,951 Maine households out of our population of 1.3 million earned more than $200,000. In neighboring New Hampshire, with essentially the same population, the number is 23,710 households.

Maine Revenue Service reports that those 10,951 Maine households account for less than 2 percent of all state income tax filers. Yet, those households pay more than 24 percent of all Maine income tax.

Hard work doesn’t always result in financial reward. Much depends on the chosen line of work. What we do know, however, is that higher wage residents pay more tax dollars than lower wage earners.

Growing tax revenues help educate our kids, pave our roads, and care for the needy among us. The more financial success generated in Maine, the better.

When I was growing up in Waterville, nobody had much money. If a neighbor drove up in a new car, my parents pointed out how hard the family had worked to enjoy the purchase. Never was there a message of envy. Instead, it was, “How can we learn from their hard work and success?”

Today, there is scarce individual wealth still claiming Maine as its residence. Are we better off because retirees leave to avoid the high taxes and energy/health insurance costs? Are there more jobs because fewer high earners are here to dine out, buy new tires, hire an accountant, or start a business? We all know the answers are “no.”

Ninety percent of Maine’s businesses employ fewer than 20 workers. The owners are not corporate fat cats. They’re our neighbors who invest their savings to start a beauty shop, car wash, or landscaping service.

As sole proprietorships or limited liability companies (LLCs), these small businesses are taxed at the same high Maine income tax rates as are individuals.

It’s fiscal lunacy to force out-of-state those who are willing to risk their own capital and job security to start a business here.

Nevertheless, over the past 35 years, our elected officials have done just that.

That’s why there are only 10,951 Maine households remaining that earn over $200,000 annually. That’s why our kids keep leaving for better opportunities elsewhere.

The new leaders in state government are using incentives to keep job creators here, and to bring others back home to Maine.

Examples of the change include the $150 million tax reduction package just passed by the Legislature. It cuts the state income tax for 460,000 residents, including the financially successful who create most of the jobs and 70,000 low-income Mainers who will pay no state income tax at all.

The package cuts taxes for small businesses, and for our neighbors who own them, allowing investment in new equipment so that more jobs are created.

Our elected officials create the rules by which the Maine economy operates. During the past 35 years, rising taxes and fees have been part of the rules. So have been punitive business regulations. High energy and health insurance costs have added to the problems.

It’s no wonder that, in 2010, Forbes Magazine ranked Maine’s business climate 50th worst in the nation. It should be no surprise that the median household income just over the state line in New Hampshire is $19,000 per year higher than here in Maine.

New leadership in Augusta finds this unacceptable and is working to change it by changing the attitude toward those who create private sector jobs. State government’s goal is to help businesses grow and hire more Mainers; to make it easier to operate a business here, not get in the way.

We’re putting in place the pieces to build a business-friendly climate in Maine. A government that spends less, taxes less, regulates less, and borrows less will help get us there. It all adds up to more jobs and fatter paychecks for Mainers.

Let’s welcome and encourage financial success in Maine. Let’s thank the job creators for helping to keep our kids here.

– Special to the Press Herald