The philanthropy for which I work recently funded research to determine how many federal dollars Maine has left on the table in the last six years. The answer? More than $1.9 billion, and that’s just what could be somewhat easily discovered.

The tired argument from opponents of taking advantage of federal tax dollars doesn’t add up when you consider Mainers have paid those dollars and they are going to New Hampshire and beyond to address the very same problems we have here — struggling caregivers for people with dementia and Alzheimer’s; preventable cancer and opioid deaths; rising infant mortality rates; potholes, unsafe roads and bridges; struggling small businesses; and high property taxes. It’s not like we get a refund for not accepting federal dollars to help with these problems.

Relief from rising property taxes is on everyone’s mind now. The fairest way to reduce those is to honor the commitment legislators made with us when they promised to return 5 percent of the sales and income taxes to towns and cities through revenue sharing. The question is, where will the money come from? The answer is, we already have access to it if we really paid attention to what’s going on behind the curtain, rather than sleight-of-hand sound bites from the governor regarding his tax policies.

The governor’s proposed income tax cut would actually be an income tax increase for those of us making less than $92,000. His income tax cut goes to those making above that. His reason for eliminating revenue sharing and the Homestead Exemption that reduces all of our property tax bills is that we have no money. The reason we get for not providing the 55 percent of funding for schools is that we have no money.

With $1 billion the governor has accumulated in the state’s cash account and the $1.9 billion of the federal taxes we’ve paid over the years, we clearly do have money, but we are choosing not to spend it on things that would reduce the majority of Mainers’ taxes.

What are some of the ways in which we, as taxpayers, are losing out? Let me start counting them.

For those who are property taxpayers, the state has transferred the maintenance of our towns’ roads, bridges, sewage treatment, and water maintenance costs to local taxpayers by refusing to take advantage of $196 million since 2011.

For those who are quitting jobs, worsening their own health, and straining their financial resources to care for loved ones suffering from Alzheimer’s, we rejected $300,000 that would have provided support for you. One in six Mainers over the age of 65 has Alzheimer’s. It’s our sixth-leading cause of death.

For those dying of colon cancer, the third-leading cause of death in Maine, it will provide no comfort to you to know that we’ve foregone $1 million for screening.

For those who have been victims of crime, we’ve left $10 million on the table that would have helped you navigate the criminal justice system.

For those who are caring for grandchildren because your own children have lost jobs, treatment options, or have died, we’ve left $1.244 billion on the table because our governor, over the objection of a majority of legislators, has left Medicaid expansion money on the table. In addition to seriously addressing treatment for our opioid crisis, the loss of those dollars has meant an increase in our hospitals’ charitable care, taking dollars away from maintaining good-paying jobs and from creating more to meet the needs of our communities.

We need a healthy, educated, well-trained workforce now and in the future, but we have lost serious ground over the past six years. We are the only state in the nation with a rising infant mortality rate. Our youngest residents are falling into deep poverty eight times faster than the rest of the country. Our expulsion rate for infants to 4-year-olds from childcare is the second highest in the nation. Our health rating has fallen from 15th to 22nd and we have more than one Maine worker dying a day from an addiction we could be working harder to treat.

For those of you who say we never should have collected those dollars in the first place, here’s my question for you. Would you seriously suggest the Department of Defense send our tax money to Mississippi to build ships rather than Bath Iron Works?

We aren’t getting a refund on our federal tax dollars, so let’s take advantage of this opportunity to solve some of the tough issues we face in this state. We have an opportunity to achieve the kind of economic prosperity we need to keep Maine the way life should be.

The Legislature is working on a two-year budget right now. Talk with your representatives and senators and tell them to demand that the governor use the federal money that’s available. And, while you are at it, tell them to lower property taxes by restoring revenue sharing to the full 5 percent.

Karen Heck is a longtime resident and former mayor of Waterville.


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