Saturday, March 8, 2014
AUGUSTA - I thank the state Legislature and the hardworking people of Maine for the trust placed in me during the past two years. My term as state treasurer ends Monday. I've been humbled and honored by the privilege of serving and grateful for this rewarding opportunity.
The Maine Legislature elects our four constitutional officers, including the state treasurer. The November elections returned the legislative majority back to the Democratic Party, where it had been for most of the past 40 years.
The incoming majority elected the current state auditor and former Democratic state Sen. Neria Douglass as our next state treasurer. I congratulate Treasurer-elect Douglass and have been pleased to assist with her smooth transition.
Two years ago, our great state faced a number of daunting fiscal challenges:
• Pension benefits totaling $4.1 billion -- which Augusta did not have funds to cover -- had been promised to 70,000 active and retired public school teachers and state employees.
• State government owed roughly $500 million to Maine hospitals for Medicaid (Maine-Care) services already provided to program enrollees.
• The increasing cost of our Medicaid program had been crowding out the state's ability to fund other core services, like road and bridge construction and repair.
• Federal stimulus money used to balance the state budget was running out.
• Wasteful spending of taxpayer dollars, or worse, was surfacing at the Maine Turnpike Authority, Maine State Housing Authority and other organs of state government.
Each of these serious problems, some of which are still with us today, shakes the financial foundation of state government and, therefore, our state economy and the lives of 1.3 million fellow Mainers.
Because of the trust that you placed in me, I was able to engage the office of the state treasurer to help find real solutions for these and other pressing issues.
Here are some positive changes we, together, helped to make for Maine families and businesses during the past two years:
• More secure retirement for teachers and state employees. Reforming the pension plan eliminated $1.7 billion (41 percent) of our public pension debt and reduced government spending by roughly $200 million per year. The largest tax cut in Maine history followed, primarily benefiting the working poor.
• More affordable housing for Maine's most vulnerable families. Lowering the costs for tax-subsidized apartments by 36 percent in 2013 will provide more at-risk Maine families with safe housing just as federal funds might begin drying up.
• End wasteful government spending. Three-day trips to New York, including $4,000 celebratory dinners, to sign routine financial transactions have stopped.
• Lower interest payments on state borrowing. Requiring Wall Street to compete to buy our bonds is saving Maine taxpayers millions of dollars in future interest costs.
• Retain Maine's AA/Aa2 credit rating. This will hold down interest payments for Maine taxpayers when state government must borrow. A solid credit rating also helps to attract business investment and more jobs.
• Lower investment management fees for families saving for college tuition in Maine's NextGen College Investing Plan.
• Facilitate expansion of natural gas pipelines. Lowering the cost to heat our homes and businesses and to operate our mills and factories will help create additional jobs.
These positive changes are building a solid foundation for a stronger Maine economy with more opportunities for our kids and grandkids.
An increasingly affordable and fiscally disciplined state government, living within its means and taxing our families and businesses only what is necessary, will help attract business investment and more jobs to Maine. All the while, the growing tax revenue will better enable us to care for our most disadvantaged citizens.
During the past two years, I never tired of the stunning beauty of the lighted dome above the Maine Capitol, framed by the proudly waving American and Maine flags. Turning off the lights at my office Monday night, I will be thankful for the opportunity you gave me to practice good government: helping the most people with the fewest tax dollars. Together, we made a big difference in two short years. Thank you.
Bruce Poliquin presents his opinions as outgoing state treasurer, not as a trustee of the Maine Public Employees Retirement System.