Two weeks ago, I wrote a column comparing upcoming tax cuts that primarily benefit the wealthy with the proposed cuts to health care programs that harm Maine’s most vulnerable.

I questioned what kind of skewed priorities would allow both policies to be enacted at the same time.

A few days later, Gov. Paul LePage made the same comparison, but phrased things slightly differently. He asked in his weekend radio address whether it was fair to “take away tax cuts to those who need it most” in order to prevent cuts to a “government-run health care program.”

This is a bit disingenuous. We could, for instance, leave the tax cuts in place for the bottom 60 percent and still recoup the vast majority (84.6 percent) of the hundreds of millions of dollars currently projected to be spent on these new income tax cuts in the coming years (and 100 percent of the hundreds of millions more projected to be spent on the estate tax cut). But at least LePage is willing to compare the two policies side by side.

Not so for House Majority Leader Phil Curtis, a Republican from Madison, who took umbrage at even the mention of both of these policies in the same paragraph.

In an Maine Compass in this newspaper, Curtis accused me of attempting to “exploit a difficult circumstance for political gain” and said the act of comparing the two policies was “reckless, irresponsible class warfare at its worst.”

I hadn’t thought of the comparison in terms of class as much as in terms of morality, but if I am a reckless class warrior, at least I have some company.

The Bangor Daily News has called the health care cuts “callous” and asked the question of priorities directly, writing in an editorial: “Should the more than $400 million in tax cuts in the current budget be put on hold to cover DHHS’ bills?”

The paper opined that it was, in fact, LePage who was exploiting a crisis, “miscasting a budget problem in order to quickly make changes to fulfill an ideological agenda.”

The Kennebec Journal and Morning Sentinel and The Portland Press Herald took things a step further, declaring the cuts to be “unconscionable” and editorializing that “it is hard to justify eliminating health care for poor people while reducing the top income tax rate from 8.5 percent to 7.95 percent.”

Setting aside questions of priorities, there are plenty of other reasons to reject LePage’s proposed cuts.

First, we still don’t know the real amount of the shortfall and what caused it. LePage at first claimed that the discrepancy was because of increased enrollment and fraud, but it now appears to mostly be mismanagement at DHHS and budgeting errors that caused the state to lose out on federal matching funds and make incorrect assumptions about program costs.

Second, the cuts likely will cost us much more in the long run. Some of the cuts would mean an immediate loss of federal dollars, often at a two- or three-to-one match. They also would lead to a lack of preventative care for the poor and an increase in emergency and charity care, leading to increased costs for hospitals and higher insurance rates for all Mainers.

I’m not even sure how to begin to measure the cost of finding housing for patients at nursing homes and similar institutions that would be cut off from care or the increased time in (much more expensive) hospital beds that would be the result of cutting MaineCare recipients off from rehabilitation centers and services.

Then there’s the cost of “churning,” the bureaucratic word for the administrative process of having to push people off MaineCare this year, only to readmit them later when the federal Affordable Care Act mandates that we once again provide them with coverage.

All this is predicated, of course, on the assumption that LePage could get a waiver for the cuts, which, as they are structured now, violate federal law.

For me, however, the real debate comes down to the collective priorities of the people of Maine.

Perhaps this makes me reckless and irresponsible, but I believe that debates such as this one can reduced to a very simple idea: Government at its best should reflect the collective aspirational values of the people it represents.

I believe that at our core we all realize that it’s unfair to give new, unneeded tax breaks mostly to a wealthy few, while at the same time cutting off needed health care to precisely those Mainers who need help the most.

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]

filed under:

Augusta and Waterville news

Get news and events from your towns in your inbox every Friday.


  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.