As we move forward in the legislative session, it is becoming increasingly clear that Maine Democrats haven’t learned much lately. That shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone — changing the ideological or strategic direction of a political party is more like turning a gigantic oil tanker than it is like being at the helm of a speedboat. There are plenty of forces intrinsic to a political party that are resistant to change, making radical transformation of a party difficult, if not impossible.

That includes ideologues who remain committed to their issues even when the public overwhelmingly disagrees with them, as well as strategists and consultants who are more interested making a quick buck than they are in just winning elections.

These elements have a great deal of sway in the Maine GOP, so it’s not a shock to see that they have a influence among Maine Democrats, either.

Still, it’s always a surprise every session just how much legislators frequently take their cue from the national parties and ideologues rather than thinking for themselves. This session, it’s as if Democrats in Augusta are fully committed to playing the role of tax-and-spend, anti-business, big-government liberals who are more interested in pandering to their base than they are in actually getting something done.

We’ve seen this increasingly with issue after issue where Democrats seem to be more committed to alienating the center rather than courting them.

One major example is the proposal to implement paid sick time statewide for all employees. As written, the legislation would require businesses of five or more employees statewide to offer paid sick leave — a fairly low threshold, especially considering that one definition of a small business used by the federal government is 500 or fewer people.

Still, the problem with this legislation isn’t just the definition that it uses, but rather that it simply imposes a new mandate on Maine businesses without considering their costs.

That’s not the only bill that is structured in this way, either — another piece of legislation, sponsored by Speaker of the House Sara Gideon, would mandate that businesses offer paid leave for childbirth. That bill at least includes a funding mechanism, but Democrats being Democrats, it’s a tax increase — on the workers themselves, including those who don’t take advantage of the benefit. So, under Gideon’s bill, employers would be forced to offer paid family leave and workers who don’t need it or want it would still have to help pay for it.

Those aren’t the only bad ideas Democrats have for businesses, either. Democrats are also pushing for a carbon tax on businesses based on the fossil fuels they produce. In theory, the money would be sent back to ratepayers as a savings. In practice, since companies would just pass the costs along to consumers, it would lead to an increase in heating oil costs, which are already taking a big chunk out of many Mainers’ wallets.

It’s also worth noting that this is not a cap-and-trade proposal, which Democrats have supported at both the federal and regional level for years. Instead, this is just another new tax on businesses.

Imposing new mandates and raising taxes on businesses is, sadly, nothing new for Democrats, and is likely to be continued and expanded upon as long as they have full control in Augusta. We saw this at the federal level back when Democrats under the Obama administration passed the Affordable Care Act, which included a brand-new mandate for employers of 50 or more to offer health insurance to their full-time employees or face a penalty.

Rather than mandating that employers offer certain benefits, government could offer tax breaks for providing them instead. We already do this for individuals in a variety of scenarios; we don’t penalize single people for not having kids, but we do offer a child tax credit. We don’t make individuals pay higher taxes based on how many fossil fuels they use, but we do offer tax credits for people to go green. This approach often works to incentive behavior for individuals, and it can for businesses as well.

So instead of imposing new benefits as government decrees, offer incentives to provide them. If structured properly, that approach could get most businesses to begin offering better benefits while also rewarding those who already provide them.

This could be an approach that unites both sides, but sadly, not many politicians seem interested in doing that these days.

Jim Fossel, a conservative activist from Gardiner, worked for Sen. Susan Collins. He can be contacted at: [email protected]

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