For years now, Maine has suffered needlessly from a broken property tax system that has pushed down home values in all but coastal areas and – along with a disjointed public transportation network in all but southern Maine – contributed to population loss and stagnant wages across the state.

Property values along most of Maine’s coast have ballooned upward in recent decades; at the same time, Maine’s inland property values have spiraled downward. The pressure to maintain local services remains constant, resulting in increased property taxes. That’s unsustainable.

After all, why did Willie Sutton say that he robbed banks? Because that’s where the money was. And the money in Maine sure isn’t in high incomes, but instead in luxury properties, many owned by people who don’t work here at all or contribute significantly to the tax base in other ways.

We have continued to be subservient to Massachusetts and points south because we have made a conscious choice: We have put our faith in the mantra of “more and more small businesses,” even though too many of the small-business jobs Maine generates currently offer salaries below a living wage.

We educate our best and brightest students for jobs in Massachusetts. When starting offers in southern New England are 60 percent more than what they are in Maine, that financial difference isn’t all just a cost-of-living adjustment – it’s a clear contrast between an economy that is working and one that simply isn’t. Many young Mainers can’t financially justify staying in Maine, and so it’s little wonder that Maine has become the oldest state in the country.

Maine is in a race to the bottom, while businesses like Chapter 11 and Marden’s thrive. No, despite what the discount furniture chain may say in its radio ads, Chapter 11 is not good, it is not great. It’s the bankruptcy statute, and if Maine doesn’t find ways to actually grow instead of incidentally capitalizing on its lack of growth, Maine will quickly be headed to the status of that chain’s namesake!

So how should we make Maine work for Mainers? Maine needs to:

 Encourage large businesses to come to Maine through a decrease in our corporate tax rate.

 Slightly reduce our sales tax to try to stay more competitive with New Hampshire.

 Establish a living wage for all Mainers that adjusts for different conditions throughout the state.

 Legalize marijuana statewide, putting a tax on it that decreases the farther into Maine one goes, such that people don’t just come to Kittery to buy their cannabis and then turn back around.

The revenue from this levy would increase the education budget at both K-12 and college levels, with the college portion funding a residential campus of the University of Southern Maine in Portland so that Maine can stop the lunacy of its largest city not having a suitable residential campus.

 Use a state-level property tax on extremely high-value, mostly coastal residential properties to create an environmentally sensitive east-west transportation network using the existing section of Interstate 95 between Pittsfield and Brewer and Route 9 (unlike Cianbro Corp. CEO Peter Vigue’s wasteful proposal 20 miles north), a road that we’ve plainly needed for a quarter-century.

Any temporary decrease in valuation on those extremely high-value, mostly coastal properties would be offset by increased transportation connections and an increasing ability for year-round Mainers to purchase the properties, and that will in turn help sales and income tax revenue.

An important thing to remember is that Montreal is a city whose metro population of 4 million spreads to within a half-degree of latitude of Bangor’s metro area, and on the other side of Bangor is Canada again!

When one reads about trying to keep open a ski resort like Saddleback, it raises this question: How can we get inland Maine to start to grow without the east-west transportation network and sensible tax structure necessary to do that?

It’s time we take advantage of our geography to build a sustainable year-round economy that works for all Mainers in all regions.≈