For nearly 20 years, I coached Maine baseball and softball players in Little League, high school and college. I stay in touch with many of my former players. I follow their careers and celebrate their weddings.
Sadly, many of these young adults are now outside of Maine and looking in. They yearn to return home to raise their children in our safe communities, and to be closer to grandparents, aunts, uncles, and old friends. Unfortunately, most can’t find good jobs to carry their families back over the bridge from New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Jersey, and beyond.
When visiting my hometown of Waterville, I often find it frustrating to reconnect with old neighbors and friends. Many, now retired, have changed their state residencies and leave Maine for six months plus one day every year. Most want to spend their golden years among the towering pines, clear lakes and bean suppers, but they can no longer afford Maine’s high taxes and expensive monthly heating and health insurance bills.
Two of Maine’s most precious assets are its young adults and senior citizens. Young families fill our classrooms, work our jobs, and provide the rest of us with immeasurable joy. Wise and generous seniors guide our charities, volunteer at our churches and grow the state economy by investing in small businesses and by purchasing goods and services from others.
To the detriment of those left behind, for decades, Maine has been losing too many young families and retirees. During the past two years there has been a growing public awareness backed by hard facts as to why this unhealthy exodus continues.
The accompanying graph shows local property taxes in Maine have more than doubled since 1992. If the cost of municipal government and school programs had grown at the rate of inflation, Maine property taxes might be half of what they are today. That means an Auburn family paying a $3,200 tax might keep $1,600 more in its pockets every year. That would lower the cost to live and work in Auburn (and other communities) and encourage young families and seniors to stay in Maine.
Recently, municipal governments have been finding ways to share and consolidate fire and police protection, road maintenance, and other services in order to end the surge in property taxes. At least for now, Augusta has stopped the dramatic expansion of our Medicaid health care welfare program, called MaineCare. This huge program has caused Maine’s ongoing budget crisis and pushed up state income taxes to among the highest in America. In 2011, Maine enacted the largest tax cut in state history that included reductions in the personal income tax, business taxes, and user fees. Lower taxes and more employment opportunities will entice the young and the old to remain in Maine, strengthening our families and communities.
Last year, my Office of the State Treasurer joined the governor’s office and other state officials to facilitate the construction of natural gas pipelines in Maine without using tax dollars. Private companies have already started construction. Connecting mills and factories is expected to be followed by homes and small businesses. Within four to five years, many Maine families and companies could be paying 40-50 percent less to heat their homes and operate their machines. That could save the average Maine family nearly $1,500 per year in heating bills, and assist our businesses to be more successful and hire more workers. Lower energy costs will help young families, retirees, businesses and jobs to stay in Maine.
In 2011, the Legislature passed a new law aimed at slowing and, over time, reducing the skyrocketing monthly health insurance bills that drain family and small company budgets. By introducing competition into the Maine health insurance market, premium increases have already slowed dramatically and, in many cases, premiums have fallen. For example, before the new law, 29-year-old parents with two children paid $1,560 per month for a $2,000 deductible policy. Today, according to the Maine Bureau of Insurance website that young family can purchase essentially the same coverage for $683 per month – an $877 per month savings! Lower health insurance costs will make it possible for more young adults and seniors to reside here in Maine.
All of these positive changes during the past two years are designed to make it easier and less expensive to live and work in Maine. They are the cornerstones of a healthier state economy and more jobs. It will be very good for Maine when our young families and senior citizens are able to comfortably live, find good work, and raise their families in the place they love. Let’s encourage our state legislators to continue down this compassionate, common sense path.
Bruce Poliquin is the former Maine State Treasurer and a 2012 Republican primary candidate for the United States Senate. He has 35 years of experience owning and managing businesses. Bruce is a proud third-generation Franco-American Mainer and Harvard University graduate. Visit BrucePoliquin.net for his most recent commentary and analysis on media outlets throughout the State about the important issues facing Maine families and their jobs. Follow Bruce on Facebook at www.facebook.com/BrucePoliquin and on Twitter at www.twitter.com/Brucepoliquin.