This week, the Maine Legislature will consider a devastating package of cuts proposed by Gov. Paul LePage that would cut off health care to hundreds of thousands of Mainers in order to close what he says is a $221 million deficit in the current budgett.

Seven months ago, LePage and the Republican-controlled Legislature passed the largest tax cut in Maine history, which will disproportionately benefit the wealthiest estates and income earners and the largest corporations in the state.

They will cost the people of Maine $199 million in 2012-2013 and will increase to a cost of $399 million in 2014-2015.

These two events are not unrelated.

THE HEALTH CARE CUTS

The cutbacks to health care would eliminate all health care coverage for 47,000 poor people in Maine, including 29,000 working parents. All health coverage for 7,000 young people (age 19 and 20) would be stripped away.

The assistance 72,000 seniors and people with disabilities receive to pay for Medicare and/or prescription drug costs would be lost. Another 5,000 to 6,000 Mainers older than 62 who aren’t on Medicare but have serious health conditions also would lose all prescription drug help.

Every single person on MaineCare would be cut off from a host of important medical services, including vision treatment, outpatient surgery centers and occupational and physical therapy.

Funds for non-medical institutions (nursing homes and similar facilities) would be eliminated, likely putting 5,000 people, including seniors and those with severe mental illness, onto the street.

LePage also has proposed eliminating all state funding for Head Start, which provides early care and education to the children of low-income families from prenatal to 5 years old, and too many other programs to list in this short space.

Overall, the cuts are targeted at those who can least afford them: children, the elderly, the poor and those with disabilities.

THE TAX CUTS

The tax cuts, on the other hand, primarily benefit those who least need the money. The top 1 percent of income earners (those making more than $356,608 per year) will receive an average tax cut of $2,905, while the bottom 20 percent will receive a tax cut of just $9. With the elimination of the circuit breaker program in the same budget, some of those low-income folks actually face a tax increase of almost $400.

Put another way, the top 1 percent will receive around 20 percent of the total income tax cut. The bottom 50 percent will receive just 9 percent.

And that’s before we even take into account the estate and corporate tax cuts. The estates of 550 of the richest families in Maine will be exempted up to $2 million in the next two-year budget cycle, at a total cost of $51 million for the rest of us. Walmart alone will receive a $1 million break on its property taxes.

PRIORITIES

Together, these two policy actions represent what may be the largest increase in disparity in Maine history, and that’s just in their immediate effects.

In the slightly longer term, the health care rollback will lead to increased costs to hospitals and to everyone who pays for health insurance in Maine as fewer people will have access to preventative care and more Mainers are treated in the emergency room and written off as charity cases.

Cutting these programs also will lead to a loss of federal matching dollars, in some cases at a rate of 2 to 1.

The elimination of physical and occupational rehabilitation services means even more costs as people spend more time in the hospital and have less chance to recover and get back to work.

In addition, according to an analysis by the Maine Center for Economic Policy, the cuts will mean the loss of 4,400 jobs, which will be felt hardest in rural areas, where a higher percentage of Mainers are employed in health care.

It’s hard for me to imagine an ethical, moral or religious tradition that would condone these simultaneous policies. How can we possibly give a new tax cut to millionaires while cutting needed medications for seniors, or give Walmart an extra million at the same time we’re cutting early childhood nutrition?

It’s the definition of unconscionable.

The Legislature will have a chance to address these proposed cuts, starting with hearings and public testimony in front of the Appropriations Committee this week.

If any legislators from either party vote for a budget that includes some of these health care cuts without also clawing back some of these unneeded and unaffordable tax breaks for the wealthy, they will have endorsed a set of priorities that I believe are unacceptable to the people of Maine, and they should be held accountable, both publicly and electorally.

 

Mike Tipping is a political junkie. He writes the Tipping Point blog on Maine politics at DownEast.com, his own blog at MainePolitics.net and works for the Maine People’s Alliance and the Maine People’s Resource Center. He’s @miketipping on Twitter. Email to [email protected]

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