The latest revisions to Gov. Paul LePage’s budget proposal may fill the estimated $164 million gap that opened when state revenue projections fell once again.

However, the governor’s plan would likely cause another, larger hole some time down the road, while leaving some of Maine’s most vulnerable residents far worse off.

Included in the proposal are limits and restrictions to programs that form a safety net for the poor and elderly, particularly during an economic downturn. For instance, the plan would set a cap on the amount of time residents could draw from the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families. The cap would impact greatly Maine families dealing with disabilities, and only provide limited savings in the state budget.

The proposal would also cut the state’s property tax relief and rent refund program, which provides help for low-income residents who pay a high percentage of their income to property taxes or rent. It make changes to the administration of general assistance that would harm both poor residents, by restricting eligibility, and the towns and cities that serve them, by reducing reimbursements.

The most concerning cuts, however, would be made to health care programs. MaineCare coverage for around 14,000 parents would be jeopardized, as would the aid provided to around 40,000 seniors for Medicare premiums, co-payments and deductibles, including help with prescription drug costs. The budget proposal would increase premiums for people of a certain income level receiving MaineCare, and it would force residents with disabilities to wait for coverage.

If the proposal were successful, many of these Mainers would become uninsured. Their health problems would go unmanaged, and the cost of the treatment would rise significantly, resulting in higher health care costs for everybody.

The governor’s office argues that the cuts are necessary to put the benefits offered in Maine in line with those in other states and at the federal level, while also balancing the budget through shared sacrifice in a tough economic time.

However, the budget also would reduce Maine’s highest income tax rate from 8.5 percent to 7.95 percent and double from $1 million to $2 million the size of estates exempt from the estate tax. Both of these policies would benefit a few, relatively wealthy Mainers while failing to stimulate the economy in any meaningful way.

Those tax cuts should be eliminated from the budget, and the revenue should be used to restore the health care programs for Maine’s poor and elderly. The cuts to programs like MaineCare assume that taking away the funding eliminates the costs, both to government and society as a whole. It does not. It simply delays and magnifies the costs, and in most cases hands them off to municipalities, hospitals and others.

Ben Bragdon is the managing editor of Current Publishing. He can be reached at [email protected] or followed on Twitter.

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