We are all on welfare. At least by Gov. Paul LePage’s definition.

The June 25 press release from the governor reported that the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis that listed Maine as trailing the other New England states in income growth (and 39th in the country) was “driven by welfare benefits (called) Personal Current Transfer Receipts (that) include Social Security benefits (and) Medicare payments.”

When his press release a day later charged that “only the most liberal interpretation of my statements … would twist my words to include Social Security and Medicare,” I went back to his original press statement, and sure enough, there was no need to twist his words. He is, after all, a plain-spoken man.

So let’s explore the governor’s concept of welfare. Here is one common definition of the word: “The good fortune, health, happiness, prosperity, etc., of a person, group, or organization.”

This is what our state’s founders had in mind when they listed in the Maine Constitution “our common welfare” as one of the “objects of government.” But this is not the way Gov. LePage defines welfare.

Here is another common definition of welfare: “Financial or other assistance to an individual from a city, state, or national government.”

This seems to be the focus of Gov. LePage, although he has expanded the definition far beyond our usual understanding of it. Our governor believes that any aid you receive from the government is welfare. Let’s give him that. And consider what that definition covers.

A lot of taxpayers helped to educate my children, and now I am (happily) helping educate the children of others. We understand the importance of education and want every Maine child to have an equal chance at success in life. All Maine children, therefore, receive government aid for their educations and are on welfare.

We value forests, so we give landowners the option of putting their forests in the tree growth program and lowering their property taxes. In essence, we pay more so they can pay less when they agree to keep their land forested. They must also agree to commercially harvest that land at least every 10 years.

That’s where Bruce Poliquin, when he was state treasurer, got into trouble. He’d put the trees behind his coastal home in the tree growth program, without acknowledging that his deed prohibited him from harvesting those trees. So he didn’t really qualify for the tax break. But he got that tax reduction and welfare from the government, and the other property taxpayers in Phippsburg paid more.

Linda and I faithfully compost our food waste, recycle everything we can, and generally have no more than a single bag of trash per week for disposal at the dump, where I often see others with five, six, or more bags of trash. My taxes pay for the disposal of their trash. They are on welfare, for sure.

A lot of elderly folks in our area receive food from the Meals on Wheels program. Yep, that is government subsidized food delivery, welfare in LePage’s mind.

I’ll bet you can add a dozen ways we Mainer’s get welfare right now, so I’ll stop. The point is simply this: We live in a society that values the individual, supports the individual, wants the individual to thrive, and is willing, in so many ways, to help that individual succeed. Much of that help is, in various ways, delivered by the government, using our tax money and our paid and volunteered time.

Most of the time we taxpayers are pleased by what is delivered. But there are certainly exceptions. The following may be one of those exceptions.

A governor must only serve six months to qualify for a retirement benefit. LePage will receive a $26,250 annual retirement benefit, even if he is not reelected. The first lady, upon his death, would also receive this annual retirement benefit as described above.

The governor thinks I am getting welfare because I am on Medicare and will begin to receive Social Security benefits at the end of this year, after paying into those programs my entire working life. Then surely he must regard his own very generous state retirement benefit, for which he qualified after just six months as our governor, to be welfare. And the governor will also be able to collect Social Security and be covered by Medicare.

Welcome to the welfare roll!

George Smith is a writer and TV talk show host. He can be reached at 34 Blake Hill Road, Mount Vernon 04352, or [email protected]. Read more of Smith’s writings at www.georgesmithmaine.com.

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