The Bush administration is turning its back on Maine.

Two major institutions in Maine have recently fallen on hard times. Revenue is scarce and painful reductions will have to be made. However, a change in management has just occurred and the future seems a bit rosier. The two bodies in question, of course, are Great Northern Paper and state government.

GNP is in Chapter 11, its workers are still at home and a buyer is still negotiating a purchase.

The state government is facing a $1 billion shortfall and is constitutionally mandated to balance the budget. Voters, in November, sent John Baldacci to the Blaine House and Democrats to majorities in both legislative houses. These new leadership teams are faced with daunting tasks, but still come to the job with high expectations and unwavering optimism.

Unfortunately, only one of these teams is getting any help in dealing with tough circumstances.

GNP is the lifeblood of a number of Maine communities, and is thus receiving support and assistance from many parties. The Baldacci administration, with the help of many elected officials from both parties, has taken a leading role in securing the future of GNP. In addition, our own workers in Local 900 – combined with matching commitments from MeadWestvaco -have assumed the role of good neighbor and donated time, money and food to GNP’s struggling employees.

The state government has only one potential “good neighbor” – the federal government – and it is turning its back on Maine. At a time when states all over the country are struggling, and at a time when essential services are being threatened here in Maine, President Bush, instead of extending the hand of cooperation, has struck with the paddle of punishment. Simply put: Bush’s economic plan is bad for Maine at a time when we can least afford it.

“Trickle Down economics!” the supporters cry. “Jobs and growth are on the way!” Fine. But Maine – especially rural, working-class western Maine – can’t wait for jobs that might trickle our way in 2006. Many Mainers need a stream of assistance just to make ends meet, right now. This means housing assistance or LIHEAP funds or transportation money, to say nothing of general property tax relief.

“There’s no free lunch around here!” the critics will wail. “Individual responsibility” is their rallying cry. However, much like the good people of Millinocket did not campaign in Rumford for handouts, the state government is not using the federal government as a salve for its financial wounds. All we hope for is that our allies join us in acting in the best interests of the people we all serve.

But, not only is the Bush administration not helping, it intends to institute a plan that will directly hurt Maine’s finances.

President Bush’s stimulus plan will cut an additional $40 million a year from Maine’s budget, further threatening K-12 aid to education and vital health services. Many of these costs, undoubtedly, will be passed on to local property taxpayers.

It gets worse.

The Bush plan also endangers the long-term stability of Maine’s finances. An important component of state activities is the ability to rely on bonds for the funding of capital improvement projects. If dividend-paying stocks become tax free, Maine will have difficulty preventing a damaging shift of money into the stock market. The necessary resultant rate hike will impair Maine’s capacity to construct roads and repair schools.

We know a lot about the Yankee ethic, with its emphasis on creativity in the face of hardship and its independent streak. On the other hand, we also know something about the community of Maine, a place where we care for our neighbors and sacrifice a little bit when it could help someone else. The federal government is not in business to bail out the states every time there is a crisis, just like Local 900 and MeadWestvaco are not bailing out GNP in its time of need. They are simply being neighborly where the Bush administration is being adversarial.

We in the Legislature are not asking for the president to solve our financial woes. The U.S. government is in debt too, and for some good reasons. All we ask is that the administration do us no harm.

Sen. Bruce Bryant, D-Dixfield, is chairman of the Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry and the Inland Fisheries and Wildlife committees.


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