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Democrats celebrate victory in the face of defeat

They cozy up to Republicans and the rich
By LANCE TAPLEY  |  June 29, 2011

DEMS FOR AND AGAINST Senator Dawn Hill has wealthy friends the budget will help.

Senator Dawn Hill, of Cape Neddick, the lead Democrat on the Legislature's Appropriations Committee, which fashioned the recently passed $6-billion state budget, explained to the Phoenix why she voted to reduce income and estate taxes on the rich while also voting for cuts in help to the poor and in teacher and state-worker pensions: "I have a lot of wealthy friends," she said, "and they do a lot of philanthropy."

Reducing income taxes, Hill added, also is "important to business."

The budget she helped craft has tax reductions that greatly benefit her friends. It drops the highest income-tax rate from 8.5 to 7.95 percent and establishes larger tax breaks. Although many low-income Mainers will no longer pay income tax, and a family making $50,000 will see its taxes cut by $250 in 2013, according to Maine Revenue Services, the wealthiest 10 percent of families will get 44 percent of the $155-million cut, with an average benefit of $3000 to those in the top one percent.

The estate-tax change expands from $1 million to $2 million the value of assets exempt from taxation, costing state government $51 million in revenue by the 2014-2015 fiscal years. New tax breaks for business will cost the state $57 million in the current two-year budget. In this period the tax-cut total will be $150 million, but in the next two-year budget it will account for a $400-million hit to the treasury.

Another powerful Democrat had good things to say about another major feature of the budget. House minority leader Emily Cain, of Orono, said in the Kennebec Journal that welfare reforms made "'significant improvements' and should be applauded," adding: "'I think this is a pretty good budget.'"

The welfare reforms include a provision requiring the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) to deny benefits to children, according to DHHS, if a parent didn't go to education classes, didn't document time spent volunteering, breaks an appointment with a welfare worker without "good reason," or otherwise breaks his or her "contract" with the state more than once. Another reform makes it impossible for many legal immigrants to receive Medicaid (MaineCare), the free health care for the very poor.

Hill's and Cain's remarks reflect the Democrats' unanimous approval in the Appropriations Committee and overwhelming approval on the House and Senate floor of the most conservative budget in anyone's memory — signed by Republican Governor Paul LePage on June 20.

Given that Maine has its most conservative government in memory, with Republicans controlling both houses and the governorship, the budget's passage is not surprising. But the Democrats' assent, with little protest, is. In fact, when LePage signed it, the House Democratic office issued a statement expressing relief.

Except the Democrats' assent really isn't surprising. They have accepted Republican economic policies for years. The eight-year reign of Governor John Baldacci, with complicit Democratic legislatures, resulted in business tax cuts, reduced state services for groups like the mentally ill, and 1000 fewer state employees.

Is compromise victory?

To be sure, Democratic lawmakers complained about budget provisions and other Republican legislation. More vociferously, though, they celebrated their ability to compromise. The Maine Sunday Telegram marveled that both parties fell "all over themselves praising the budget and the process that produced it."

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4 Comments / Add Comment


As I recall, Cape Neddick is a wealthy coastal village, so Rep. Dill is probably just doing her job, representing her base. Hinck and Goode are city reps, familiar with the real issues of the working class. Which side are you on, brother, which side are you on? Goode's comment re: ice cream is a gem, and hits the nail on the head. The rich could help our economy more by distributing their wealth into the hands of those most likely to spend it, but they prefer to "invest it" in markets that do not increase living standards and true economic prosperity. Can anyone say "class warfare" without getting ridiculed?
Posted: June 30 2011 at 7:26 AM

Cynthia Dill

@ccaissie Senator Hill is from Cape Neddick, and a member of the Appropriations Committee who supported the budget, Senator Dill (me) is from Cape Elizabeth and did not support the budget.
Posted: July 03 2011 at 11:36 AM

Jonathan McKane

"Democrats fought the Republicans' new law allowing health-insurance companies to charge sick and old people much higher premiums than younger and healthier people,"

Is the media intentionally getting this wrong? They keep repeating the same lie that sick people can be charged more than healthy people. And the whole point of the changes to our community rating laws were to allow insurers to charge young people less.
Posted: July 03 2011 at 1:37 PM

Mackenzie Andersen

If “going backwards” means throwing a spanner in the works of the special interest agenda built up by “honest” politicians like good little Ms Dill, and the corporate state constructed by a legislature operating in direct violation of our state constitution, then I say HIP HIP HORRAY! We’re going backwards! Hallelujah!

The welfare state is just the other side of the special interest government, which already gave corporations a tax free ride when they expanded the Pine Tree Zone statewide. The Pine tree Zone was originally designed for low income, high unemployment areas. The “honest and moral “ politicians of our recent past replaced that with welfare for the poor. While the “targeted sector “ gets “quality jobs” (legislature code for high pay and plush benefits), the rest of the economy is drained paying to maintain an elite class in the style to which they have become accustomed. Everyone cannot have those “quality jobs” which are clearly not designed for the sector forced to live on welfare. Unlike our corporate state, which can operate in the red while offering its employees a plush benefit package, the small business that are most likely to provide jobs at the lower end of the economic scale have to earn the ability to offer benefits to their employees. With the capital being drained from the general economy to artificially support the “targeted sector”, there is less opportunity to develop the jobs, which the lower end of the economic scale can readily fall into and off of welfare.

There is a name for the direction that our state government has been going in the recent and long distant past- that name is Agenda 21.
Posted: July 04 2011 at 10:42 AM
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