The state of Maine is politically fragile. A simple statistical analysis of the demographic and economic conditions of the state reveals that we are dissimilar, not only to the country as a whole, but even to our New England neighbors. Based on these conditions, Maine requires a steady hand by its government to maintain the quality of life that can support the viability of a motto which claims, “Maine – the way life should be.”

Let’s look at a few of these statistics.

First of all, we have an older population. Surprisingly, it is not retirement-friendly Florida that leads the country in aging citizens, but Maine. Yes, from a demographic perspective, we rank No. 1 – oldest in the U.S.A. Also, we are, again from a population perspective, quite small – at No. 41 only nine states are smaller. Some good news is that we are safe – ranking No. 1 for public safety which certainly supports the veracity of our motto. However, our cost of living is well above average – we rank No. 36 in affordability, and our tax burden is very heavy. In fact, we have the third highest tax load in the country – at No. 3 only New York and Hawaii are higher in the cost of government.

Against this statistical background, it is most concerning that Maine’s commercial ability to support its population is dismal. We rank No. 50 – dead last for business environment.

So, in a nutshell, why are we so politically fragile? Because we are a small, older state with a high cost of living and attendant tax burden which presents a serious challenge to government (and the electorate) in protecting our quality of life without exacerbating those factors that make it less so.

A dramatic case in point is the just-failed universal home care question on the mid-term ballot. Understandably, the well-intentioned aim of this proposition was supported by our elderly population and caregivers. However, not only were the administrative aspects of the proposal flawed, the tax impact would have resulted in pushing Maine to the No. 1 rank in tax burden in the country.

Like so many other good ideas that are proposed by politicians today — such as Medicare for all, free college and a guaranteed wage, they sound wonderful but are simply unable to be supported by an increased tax load. Mainers showed prudent wisdom in defeating this flawed proposition.

Examples of political fragility can also be found in nearby Connecticut and Vermont.

Take a look at national publications and you will see that “Nutmeggers” are selling their homes and departing the state at a record rate.

Connecticut currently ranks No. 4 in the country for people leaving their state. Why? Because of the crushing tax load foisted upon them by government. Vermont flirted with single-payer health care. However, when it came time to see how they would pay for it, there was a sobering realization. There wasn’t a large enough tax base to support it. Many of the so-called “rich” had fled the state and the remaining Vermonters couldn’t pick up the tab.

Back to Maine. When the universal home care proposal was being floated, supporters actually undercut their own case. They argued that the 3.8 percent tax increase needed to support the program would only affect the “rich” at the income level of $128,400, and that this would involve just the top 3 percent of Mainers.

Now, think about that. In a state where the tax burden is the third highest in the country, a mere 3 percent of the population, quantified at $128,400, are paying the lion’s share of taxes. If there were to be an out-migration of the “rich” from Maine, the impact upon those of us who remain would be devastating.

Indeed, we are in a fragile condition.

I hope Gov.-elect Mills and the state Legislature understand this fragility. I must say that outgoing Gov. Paul LePage, who almost daily was excoriated in the media, did know our fragile condition well.

After inheriting a state treasury that was in deficit, he left office with a surplus. Given the statistical background of Maine, this is nothing short of remarkable. Those who complain that the spending in this state only show that the economy under LePage didn’t “share the wealth enough” cannot possibly appreciate that Maine is a fragile state.

Lastly, let me point out a condition of political reality that impacts our fragile condition. I cite dark, outside money used to influence our political choices. My colleague columnist, Paul Ackerman, has aptly used the metaphor, “cheap date” to describe Maine. This metaphor acknowledges that a small, elderly population can be easily influenced by a relatively tiny infusion of cash. A good case in point was the issue of ranked choice voting. This spurious ballot question was 100 percent funded by out-of-state money.

Even with a high tax burden and cost of living, I love living in a safe state with a well-deserved motto of, “The way life should be.” However, our state government must manage us well and improve the business environment or, sadly, fragility will take another casualty.

Another View is a weekly column written collaboratively by Dale Landrith of Camden, Ken Frederic of Bristol, Paul Ackerman of Martinsville, Jan Dolcater of Rockport and Ralph “Doc” Wallace of Rockport.


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