Since our very first days in the Legislature, we have worked to make sure rural Maine isn’t forgotten in Augusta. Every year has been a struggle, but this year is especially difficult now that the governor has proposed a budget that leaves behind those residents who don’t happen to live along the coastline.

We have spent a great deal of time during the past several weeks reading through the governor’s budget proposal for the next two years and sitting in hearings listening to public feedback. It is a very complicated plan with a lot of moving parts that creates a lot of challenges for rural Maine.

The governor’s plan calls for the end of revenue sharing, an agreement more than four decades old that helps communities provide essential services, such as fire departments, schools and snow plowing, while keeping property taxes contained for both local business owners and residents. It is a system that allows towns to meet their responsibilities and keep things running.

To make up for these drastic cuts, the governor proposes to have certain non-profits pay property taxes. The problem? Most towns don’t have enough of the kinds of non-profits that would be added to the tax rolls to cover the difference. The Maine Municipal Association estimates that more than 90 percent of the state’s communities – that’s more than 400 towns — would lose out under the governor’s plan.

It seems as though mostly cities such as Portland and its wealthy suburbs would benefit, but rural towns would be stuck raising property taxes and cutting services at the same time. That means more families who struggle to get by will be paying more and getting less in return.

Meanwhile, let’s look at some of the rural non-profits who would start paying taxes under the governor’s plan: homes for the elderly, hospitals (the largest or second-largest employers in most rural communities), facilities for those with psychiatric disabilities, food banks, charities, land trusts and summer camps. These places provide valuable services to residents, generate economic activity, and they hire locally, too.


A lot of these places operate on shoestring budgets, and there is a real possibility that some of them could lay off employees or shut down, leaving a lot of people who can’t fend for themselves displaced. Already overburdened towns would be stuck picking up the pieces. It is a plan that further cuts off and economically isolates our communities, impacts our families and generally makes life a lot more difficult for people who don’t have a lot to begin with.

The average person’s tax burden is 41 percent property taxes, 22 percent income taxes, 17 percent sales taxes and 20 percent a mix of other taxes, according to the 2014 Compendium of State Fiscal information. That’s way out of balance, especially when you consider that the property tax often has nothing to do with how much income you have.

Outside of just the tax issue, the governor is also proposing a massive and ill-advised reorganization of the Maine Forest Service that would eliminate the Bureau of Parks and Lands. This will hinder Maine’s ability to manage public lands responsibly. For Western Maine and other areas that benefit tremendously from tourism and our natural-resources-based economy, this could create massive challenges. As of January, we are still at 6.5 percent unemployment in Oxford County. That lags behind the rest of Maine, which is lagging behind all of New England. The last thing we need is interfering with the one key part of the rural Maine economy that is helping lift up working people.

So many rural Mainers from every corner of the state have already come out to Augusta to testify against the proposed budget for exactly the reasons outlined above and more. Their message was clear: don’t leave us behind. We are not looking for special treatment, but at least have the decency to give us a fair shake.

We can’t keep shifting state costs down to the local level. It is irresponsible to balance the budget on the backs of small rural towns and the residents and business owners who pay property taxes. We can pass a budget that is fair to all Maine communities — not just the big ones like Portland.

Let’s not leave rural Maine behind.

Rep. Matt Peterson, D-Rumford, is serving his fourth term in the Maine House and represents Rumford, Roxbury, Milton, Sumner and Woodstock.

Sen. John Patrick, D-Rumford, is serving his third term in the Maine Senate and represents 32 communities in Oxford and Androscoggin counties.

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