Commentary

Posik: Maine GOP’s Ballot Initiative Brings Much Needed Reforms

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The Maine Republican Party is pushing a two-part ballot initiative for the next election cycle that aims to reduce the state income tax rate and make common sense reforms in Maine’s welfare system.

Maine’s GOP has to collect 62,000 signatures and submit them to the Secretary of State by the first day of February to get the initiative on the November ballot.

Using projected revenue growth statistics provided by the Consensus Economic Forecasting Commission (CEFC), the Maine GOP wants to reduce the individual income tax rate to 4 percent over a four year period by aligning rate reductions with the natural revenue growth of state government. The changes would take place starting in 2018 and extend through the tax year of 2021. Reductions would come in equally sized portions until the individual income tax rate in Maine is at 4%. Currently, Maine’s top individual income tax rate is 7.95 percent, the ninth highest rate in the country.

It also uses a legal structure provided in existing law to allocate revenues from the next Maine liquor contract, set for 2024, to eventually eliminate the individual income tax in Maine.

This change would allow Mainers to keep more of their hard-earned money in pocket by ensuring that growth in government revenue results in income tax reductions for working Mainers, not the creation of new government programs or increased government spending. Many Mainers wish to see this virtuous mentality on state spending take shape in Augusta.

Equating reductions with projected revenue growth seems precarious, but the CEFC is the authority our state legislature turns to for revenue growth forecasting. The CEFC’s numbers are trusted, and by using their data for this initiative, the Maine GOP is taking the next step in solidifying the economic futures of our working population, in combination with eliminating the useless and unnecessary growth of state government.

This joint referendum would also propose several changes to Maine welfare law by limiting where program recipients can spend the money they receive from our state government. Regulations include requiring able-bodied adults to seek work before qualifying for benefits, and prohibiting expenditures on tobacco, liquor, lotteries, gambling, tattoos, and bail with TANF and EBT funds.

The measure would also eliminate General Assistance welfare, TANF and SNAP for non-citizens of Maine, who are ineligible to receive these benefits under federal law. It also eliminates eligibility for convicted drug felons to receive TANF and SNAP funds from the state of Maine, and establishes drug testing for the entire population of welfare recipients based on reasonable suspicion.

These alterations to Maine’s welfare law will also change the mindset our state holds on just what government assistance is meant to be.

Society is driven by citizen participation, a civic responsibility we all hold as both Mainers and Americans. Therefore, those who are physically and mentally capable of contributing should do so, as there’s no viable excuse for an able-bodied person to be exempt from this responsibility.

Additionally, these struggling individuals should not be allowed to willfully proliferate their struggles with unprincipled purchases.

The reality that opponents of welfare reform fail to acknowledge is that government assistance has little success when you cannot regulate what recipients do with these funds. Tobacco, alcohol, lottery, and tattoo purchases with government funds are not only immoral, they have no positive impact in improving a struggling Mainer’s socioeconomic standing. If you want to change the socioeconomic standing of low-income citizens enrolled in government assistance programs, you need to start by ensuring they are spending their government subsidized funds in the right places, or you’re essentially wasting this money.

Government assistance is not meant to be a long-term safety net of which one can rely on a government subsidized personal income for the rest of their lives. Maine opted out of regulating a 60-month limit on welfare eligibility when Bill Clinton enacted federal welfare reforms as president in 1996, and it wasn’t until 2012 that this provision was enacted in Maine, at the hands of Governor Paul LePage.

If welfare is truly meant to be a crutch for those struggling to get on their feet, why not ensure that the crutch does its job correctly? Mindlessly broadening eligibility in these programs like we did in the past had only resulted in increased enrollment, until LePage enacted these regulations in his first term as governor.

This citizen’s initiative is an outlet for working Mainers to secure economic prosperity for their futures. It’s also a platform for Mainers to express their dissatisfaction with the growth of state government and wasteful government spending. Many wish to see a mechanism in Augusta that allows Mainers to keep more of their money and spend less of it. Hopefully, this initiative will find its way on the November ballot and earn passage by the will of Maine voters.

About Jacob Posik

Jacob Posik, of Turner, is a policy analyst for the Maine Heritage Policy Center. He can be reached at jposik@mainepolicy.org.

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