AUGUSTA — As a policy analyst at the Maine Center for Economic Policy, it’s my job to provide information to lawmakers and promote fiscal and tax policies that promote a vision of shared prosperity and economic justice. As a result, I’ve spent more hours in legislative committees than I could count. But earlier this month, at a Taxation Committee public hearing, I saw something out of the ordinary.

I saw the usual suspects, representing special interests, easily outnumbered by a steady stream of Mainers – people volunteering their time away from their jobs and their families – who turned out to oppose L.D. 1655, Gov. LePage’s latest proposal for a regressive rewrite of Maine’s tax code. Even more Mainers had filed written testimony with the committee.

Those Mainers testified against the LePage tax bill. But it’s more telling what they were testifying for. They urged lawmakers to consider the needs of their families, neighbors and communities, to consider the opportunity lost when public resources are diverted away to fund tax breaks. They were arguing for the basic premise of our civic life – that when all of us pitch in, we can have a better, more decent society.

“Voters have repeatedly shown that they want to see higher state support for education and health care, but this bill would severely reduce revenues the state will need to address these and other needs, such as broadband, the opioid crisis, environmental protections or infrastructure,” said Carolyn Curtis of Saco, who summarized the inherent trade-offs of the governor’s austerity agenda.

The governor and his allies pitch the LePage tax bill, with its $88 million price tag, as a simple clerical update to Maine’s tax code – a necessary revision to come into conformity with the new federal tax law. The reality is that Maine is not required to fall in line with President Trump’s tax breaks, and the governor has proposed not only the adoption of many of the flawed policies in federal law, but also his own slate of new state-level giveaways.

Like the Trump tax plan, the governor’s proposal provides huge benefits for the few at the expense of the many. It provides new tax breaks to the same select group of wealthy households and profitable businesses in Maine who next year will reap a $443 million windfall from the federal tax law enacted by Congress last December.

Tax and fiscal policy affect all Mainers, but the complexities of budgets and tax codes don’t easily lend themselves to sound bites and rally cries. While Mainers may not be lining the halls of the State House every day to lobby on tax policy, the hearing on the LePage tax bill made clear that they understand the game that’s often played with the tax code. They understand that when the powerful individuals and organizations can manipulate the tax code for their own benefit, everyone else pays the price. What follows are diminished services and funding at the state level and higher property taxes as municipalities struggle to make up the difference.

“I am happy to contribute to the cost of services in our state,” said Lynnea Hawkins of Lewiston during the public hearing. “There are things we can’t afford to do on our own, so we ask the state government to help us pool our resources to fix roads, run our schools, make sure there’s a strong safety net, among many other public goods.

“But this system only works if it’s fair. When year after year, those with more than they need get the benefit while people are homeless, go hungry, die from preventable illness because they don’t have health care, this is immoral and shameful.”

We can fully fund our public schools. We can build a robust infrastructure that lays the groundwork for sustained, shared economic prosperity. We can maintain a public health system that doesn’t allow anyone to fall through the cracks. But we can’t do it if we squander public resources on tax breaks for the powerful few.

“I’m retired, living on half what our household used to earn, and certainly not wealthy, yet I have enough,” said Caroline Thorne-Lyman of Freeport. “I don’t want a tax break if others are going to suffer.”

The Taxation Committee members will continue to debate and negotiate around the provisions of the LePage tax bill. Those Mainers who came to testify are gone, but their words remain. Committee members, and the whole Legislature, should heed those words.