50 Maine Businesses Call for Defense of Fund for a Healthy Maine

A cigarette tax could be a solution but LePage said he would veto that measure

By Ramona du Houx -May 10th, 2011 ·

“The Fund for a Healthy Maine is how we help smokers quit, support new parents, help families get active, teach students about healthy choices, and engage communities like mine in every corner of Maine. Why would we dismantle one of Maine’s biggest success stories?” asked Tina Chapman, President of the United Way of Mid-Maine in Waterville at a press conference at the Capitol.

Business leaders and public health advocates highlighted the important role the Fund plays in protecting children’s health, improving worker productivity, lowering health insurance costs for businesses, and making Maine an appealing location for new companies to start or relocate. Legislators also received a letter signed by more than 150 Maine businesses urging them to reject the cuts to the Fund for a Healthy Maine that are currently proposed in the Governor’s budget.

Kurt Stoll, Executive Director of the Blue Hill Chamber of Commerce stated, “Health insurance costs are like a wound that won’t heal. They are relentless and they are making it almost impossible for our businesses to grow and thrive. That’s why the Blue Hill Chamber was stunned to hear that one of the proposals being considered here in Augusta is a significant cut to the Fund for a Healthy Maine. The Fund is an essential tool in our state’s economic development strategy. Keeping it strong is simply the best thing we can do, at no cost to taxpayers, to reduce health costs across the board so businesses can start improving their bottom line.”

At issue is the current proposal in the Governor’s budget to dismantle the Fund for a Healthy Maine and use over one third of it to fill a hole in the state budget. Lawmakers are also considering a bill, LD 536, which would increase the tax on cigarettes by $1.50 per pack. According to the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, such an increase would save 6,000 live and $295 million in health care costs. It would also create at least $35 million in new revenue for the state.

Susan Corbett, CEO of Axiom Technologies in Machias, sees the cigarette tax increase as the solution to protecting the Fund for a Healthy Maine and creating more jobs in rural communities through new economic development efforts. She remarked, “Imagine what we could do with $15 million a year to spend on creating jobs in Washington, Aroostook, Somerset, and other particularly hard-hit counties? Increasing the price of tobacco products is a win-win. It can protect the Fund for a Healthy Maine and help create good jobs for our young people right here in Maine.”

New polling was also released showing the support of 66% of Maine voters for a $1.50 increase in the tax on cigarettes. The same poll showed that 91% of Maine voters support using the Fund for a Healthy Maine as it was intended – to prevent disease and promote good health.

“Research shows that every dollar we take from the Fund for a Healthy Maine will lead to $7.50 more in health costs that businesses like mine, from around the state, are going to have to absorb. That would be an outrageously short-sighted approach to economic development,” said Rocell Marcellino, owner of Calzolaio Pasta Company in Wilton. “So I say to legislators: don’t pull the rug out from under us. Pass laws that support healthy workers, healthy children, and strong communities. Preserve the Fund for a Healthy Maine.”

Corbett added, “Maine businesses aren’t the only ones worried about high health insurance costs and whether our workers are healthy and maximizing their productivity. These are exactly the questions that national companies are asking as they decide where they may locate a new branch or a new manufacturing facility. Dismantling the Fund is exactly the wrong signal to be sending to these national and international businesses about Maine’s commitment to creating a strong environment for business. Let’s keep our eye on the ball and pass a budget that supports Maine businesses and the workers and future workers we’ll need to grow and prosper.”