Corporations are people too. And in Maine, corporations are people on welfare.

In 2010, we excused corporations from $1.2 billion in income-related taxes, and another $1.3 billion in sales taxes, according to a recent column in the Maine Sunday Telegram by economist Charles Lawton.

When corporations avoid paying taxes, that’s equivalent to a welfare payment from the state of Maine, and it shifts the burden for that loss of revenue to the rest of the taxpaying public.

At the same time, there is no evidence out there to suggest that this $2-plus billion gift from the state of Maine is creating jobs, improving the economy or doing anything beneficial for the people of Maine. It is helping the corporate bottom line, of course, but that’s about it.

Where are the jobs from the “job creators?”

Instead, the focus of the current administration is to balance the budget by squeezing savings out of people on welfare, people in need of health care and by cutting educational costs.

What are those costs?

The total cost of welfare (TANF) is $170 million, of which Maine’s share is $24.6 million.

General assistance in 2008 was $11.5 million in state spending. In 2010, Mainers received $353 million in food stamp (SNAP) payments, of which the state chipped in only $2.18 million.

The whopper is Medicaid (MaineCare), which cost $2.2 billion in 2010. Maine’s share of that bill was $555 million.

The total cost of all this welfare to the people of Maine is $593 million. The federal share of that cost is $2.13 billion. In other words, for every dollar Maine spends on welfare, we import more than $3.50 from the federal government.

If we want to pursue a successful economic model, we should not interfere with a 350 percent return on each dollar spent. Adding to that, people on welfare have a tendency to spend their money on necessities purchased locally, multiplying each dollar spent.

But if we want to balance the budget we better start looking at nonperforming business tax breaks.

If we just cut them in half, without eliminating them, we would have another $1.25 billion to balance the budget, provide better health care for all Mainers, work on our failing infrastructure and maintain a quality education system from kindergarten through the university level.

We need to start treating corporations as if they really are people. I wouldn’t go so far as to require mandatory drug testing (Gov. Paul LePage wants to require drug testing for welfare recipients) for those CEOs whose companies are the beneficiaries of the state’s largesse. The results, however, could be quite interesting.

There are laws that we observe every day, however, that corporations routinely ignore.

Like litter laws. We can’t throw garbage out our car windows or onto our neighbors’ lawns without facing penalties, so most of us don’t do that. Corporations have no problem fouling our air, water, landscape and into our bodies through myriad toxins, as if it was their God-given right.

Also, if corporations really are people, they need to be a little more multidimensional. It’s not just about the bottom line, it’s also about moral behavior, fairness, compassion for your fellow individuals and, above all, about having a sense of humor about things. That’s what makes us people.

Corporations, and those who run them, do, I admit, have a strong sense of irony. How else could they lead the charge for tax breaks and against any new taxes while pushing the burden for service cuts to the working moms and elderly poor?

A lot has been said about “corporate speech” and the Supreme Court-granted right for corporations to “speak” with their campaign contributions. Is that speech? Speech is about the power of words, not about the power of money. Money can and does buy power, but let’s not confuse it with speech.

Let’s hear some real speech from our corporations: Poems, essays, novels, nonfiction. How about musical speech? Songs, ballads, protest songs, folksongs, even perhaps a new genre called “corporate opera.” (That would be pretty hard to take, I know.)

So, corporations, listen up! If you want the right to be treated like people, you have to take the responsibilities that ordinary people take: Pay your fair share of taxes, don’t litter and start talking like grownups. And go easy on the irony thing.

Denis Thoet owns and manages Long Meadow Farm in West Gardiner. www.longmeadowfarmmaine.com.


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