Friday, March 7, 2014
Bruce Poliquin is the former Maine State Treasurer and a 2012 Republican primary candidate for the United States Senate. He has 35 years of experience owning and managing businesses. Bruce is a proud third-generation Franco-American Mainer and Harvard University graduate. Visit BrucePoliquin.net for his most recent commentary and analysis on media outlets throughout the State about the important issues facing Maine families and their jobs.
Last week, the Maine Legislature’s powerful budget writing committee recommended to further grow state government. To pay for the increased spending, the Appropriations Committee proposed raising taxes on struggling Maine families and businesses. This week, it is expected that all 186 legislators will vote up or down on the increased spending and higher taxes. If passed, Governor Paul LePage stated that he will veto the plan.
There will likely be plenty of discussion about the increased spending and additional tax “compromise” crafted by the Appropriations Committee. Unfortunately, the compromise is heading in the wrong direction. The agreement should be about how much to reduce the size of government and to lower taxes, not the other way around.
Maine is already one of the highest taxed states in the country – personal income tax, gasoline tax, business tax, sales tax, local property tax, and so on. Maine families pay the 9th highest tax burden in the nation. In other words, we pay the 9th highest percent of our below national average earnings for state and local taxes.
Non-partisan research confirms that the lowest taxed states attract more business investment and jobs than the highest taxed states. It’s common sense that business owners locate to states where the cost (and regulatory complexity) of operating their companies is lower. Taxes are part of those costs.
It’s easier for a growing family to buy a larger home when the mortgage interest rate is low. Less money is needed from the monthly budget to pay that interest cost. More money is available to spend on groceries, clothes, heating oil, and gasoline.
Interest rates impact businesses in a similar way. When it’s cheaper to borrow money, it’s easier for a mill to buy another papermaking machine, or for an auto repair shop to open a second bay. More money is available to hire additional workers to operate those machines. Life is better because the company has grown, more families earn paychecks, and the resulting increased tax revenues can be used to repair roads and bridges and to educate our children.
During the past five years, the U.S. Treasury and independent Federal Reserve have used various “monetary strategies” to push down interest rates to historic lows. They have done so to help consumers and businesses borrow cheaply in order to grow the economy and create badly-needed jobs.
The historic low interest rates are helping the economy gradually turn around. Although the recovery is unusually slow and fragile, families with jobs are cautiously beginning to purchase new cars, homes, appliances, and so on. Businesses leaders still lack confidence about growing their companies and hiring new workers. Even so, it appears that the worst is behind us.
Last week, actions by Maine legislators and Governor LePage make it likely that two issues critically important to Maine families will be decided soon and separately.
First, our state government will decide if 39 Maine hospitals will finally be paid the $484 million they are owed for services already provided to Maine’s huge number of Medicaid recipients.
Maine hospitals employ 30,000 workers with mostly good-paying jobs including benefits. Hospitals have been laying-off employees, freezing salaries, and postponing the purchase of new equipment to treat patients because the state has not paid back this enormous debt.
Yesterday, Maine Republican Gov. Paul LePage vetoed a bill passed by the State Legislature that would have paid Maine’s 39 hospitals the $484 million owed them by the state only if the huge Medicaid health care welfare program is expanded further. Ironically, Maine’s unaffordable Medicaid program caused the hospital debt in the first place.
It is unlikely that the Democratic majority in the Legislature will be able to muster enough votes to override the governor’s veto. As a result, the legislative majority will probably decide whether or not to vote to pay off the hospital debt and, separately to expand Medicaid, as requested by Gov. LePage.
Public opinion polls show Maine residents overwhelmingly want Augusta to pay the hospitals the $484 million they are owed. Maine hospitals employ 30,000 workers with mostly good-paying jobs including benefits. Hospitals have been laying off employees and postponing the purchase of new equipment to treat patients because the state has not fully paid them for services already provided to Medicaid patients.
Maine’s unusually generous Medicaid program, called MaineCare, was originally created as a medical welfare safety net for disabled, elderly sick, and poor Mainers. During the past dozen years, the program expanded to include able-bodied 19- and 20-year-olds, childless adults, and many middle-income families. Services provided include podiatry, chiropractic, and dental care not covered in most other states.
The First Amendment to the United States Constitution protects us from government interfering with our right to speak freely. This bedrock right of free speech by every American, guaranteed by our Constitution, is fundamental to our civil society and hard-fought liberties for more than 230 years.
Two weeks ago, mid-level officials at the Internal Revenue Service admitted that agency personnel had singled out politically conservative organizations for unusual scrutiny in their applications for tax-exempt status. Groups with watch words such as “tea party,” “patriots,” and other right-leaning descriptions were inappropriately, and possibly illegally, asked to provide lists of donors and minutes of meetings as their applications were not acted upon sometimes for years.
The IRS is arguably the most powerful organ of the federal government. It has the authority to reach deeply into the lives of every American citizen, business, and non-profit entity. With tax audits and investigations, it can quickly strike fear into everyday lives and disrupt one’s ability to earn a living. Citizens and organizations “examined” by the IRS must bear the accounting, legal, and other costs to satisfy the department’s request for information and data, and to defend themselves.
An increasing number of Americans, small businesses, and organizations are stepping forward to provide first-hard experiences of IRS intimidation. Congressional hearings begin this week in Washington.