Opinion

Voters are finding they voted for tax and spend

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Spend, spend, spend. Tax, tax, tax.

You heard a lot of flowery talk about responsibly leading Maine. You heard about discipline and “investments” that would make the state better. “No, we won’t raise your taxes,” they said, “we’ll just reprioritize state government and we’ll use money we already have to do a few things responsibly.”

You should have known better.

We are only a few weeks into the new Legislature, and the tenure of the new governor, but it is already becoming clear that two very predictable things are happening.

The new Democratic majorities in the Maine House and Senate, unleashed by their unchallenged control over government, are finally free to do what they want, and these two things represent the only real ideas they have. Spend more — a lot more — and tax more.

We’ve seen an immediate expansion of Medicaid with no long-term funding plan tied to it. We’ve seen proposals for an incredibly expensive universal pre-K program across the state. We’ve seen a destructively expensive bill pushing a “Green New Deal.” We have seen 39 proposal for bond questions, which is not only new spending, but new debt.

We’ve also seen a proposal for the reimposition of the 3 percent surtax, which was the basis of 2016’s Question 2 and was repealed by the Legislature. We’ve seen proposals that are almost certain to pass that will allow for the enactment of a local-option sales tax. And then this week we learn that Speaker Sara Gideon would like to raise taxes for a paid leave proposal.

Democrats feel great right now. State government is flush with cash, they have control of everything, and they’ve been desperate to enact these spending and tax proposals like this for years, but haven’t been able to.

But is that responsible? Is that what is best for Maine?

Maine is famously in the middle of a demographic crisis. Our young people are flocking out of the state, and seemingly can’t do it fast enough. More of us die than are born. The cost of living is getting preposterous.

Former Gov. Paul LePage, whatever you think of his personality, put the state in the position to make some major, much-needed reforms to begin to change these things. Spending was controlled, entitlements reformed and taxes were ever so slightly cut. The result has been the best economy Maine has had in five decades, and a treasury that is filled. These facts are inarguable.
Now is the time that it needs to get competitive with its regional neighbor, and its national competitors, and give both businesses and people a reason to relocate here, and then stay.

People don’t relocate to Maine because the state mandates certain wages or benefits. They don’t come here because we tax our citizens to death to pay for some vague idea of “better schools.”

People — particularly the very young people we should care about the most — care about a vibrant economy that gives them options, the ability to earn a good, competitive salary, an interesting and exciting place, and perhaps most importantly, the cost of a place to live, which is expressed in housing costs and property taxes.

Sure, schools matter, and sure, benefits matter, but what nearly every policymaker in Maine fails to understand is that middle-income professionals, the people we want most, are able to self-select good schools by moving to any community they want, and have already negotiated decent benefits given the nature of their work.

Nearly every friend of mine from high school who lives outside Maine today lives in a place where they get paid more money, are taxed less and pay less money for a larger house.
That’s it. Seriously. That’s what matters.

And that is exactly what is made less likely by a never-ending parade of spending proposals and tax increases that will take an already uncompetitive state and bury it.

Matthew Gagnon of Yarmouth is the chief executive officer of the Maine Heritage Policy Center, a free market policy think tank based in Portland. A Hampden native, he previously served as a senior strategist for the Republican Governors Association in Washington, D.C.

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