By Ramona du Houx
More than a hundred Mainers from across the state gathered in Augusta on St. Patrick's Day to protest the priorities of Governor Paul LePage’s budget proposal, which contains large tax cuts that predominately benefit the wealthy, paid for in part through cuts to education, health care and other vital programs.
"There aren't even words for it," said Katie McDaniel, President of the Parent Teacher Organization at Auburn Middle School. "We work hard as parents to help teachers make the most out of what little money they have for their classrooms. We pay for field trips ourselves. For Governor LePage to threaten even more cuts to schools in order to give the wealthiest 1% another $10,000 tax cut, well it's just fundamentally wrong."
At the St. Patrick's day event, speakers stood before a large pot of gold coins labelled "tax cuts for the wealthy." A distributional analysis just released by the LePage administration shows that by 2019, the top one percent of income earners in Maine, those making more than $392,094 a year, will see an average annual tax cut of $10,679 each under LePage's plan.
Protesters who want a fair budget, not one that give the rich more tax breaks on the back of the middle class, at the State House. Photos by Ramona du Houx
For Jeff Barnes of Bangor, those tax breaks would come at an enormous cost.
"I rely on the Medicare Savings Program. It has been a lifesaver for me and for thousands of other Mainers and Governor LePage's plan to cut it once again is just unconscionable," said Barnes. "For me, it means a difference of more than $500 a month in the costs of my prescription drugs, more than $6,000 a year. There's no way I could come up with money. I'll lose my home."
Participants criticized the LePage budget not just as cruel, but as self-defeating, asserting that its cuts to education, health care and programs like General Assistance will undermine the state's future.
"Prior to getting a work permit, I was helped by the General Assistance Program, which helped to meet the basic need of a young woman in a new country of exile," explained Sonia Irambona, an asylum seeker originally from Burundi who works two jobs providing in-home care in Southern Maine. "I now do some of the most important work in Maine, helping to care for a rapidly aging population and making sure my fellow Mainers can live with dignity. It&'s about building a future for Maine, together."
Ben Chin, candidate for Lewiston mayor, speaks out against LePage's budget that benifits the top 1 percent of Maine and burdens everyone else with probable property tax increases. Photo Ramona du Houx
Earlier this month, at an event in Auburn, Governor LePage refused to believe the story of one Mainer struggling to afford medication and food.
"I will tell you this. You give me the name and addresses and I will have people there tomorrow morning. I guarantee you that they will be taken care of," he said, according to the Lewiston Sun Journal.
LePage and his people never showed up at the address given, but many of the activists at event today still attempted to take him up on his rhetorical offer, writing their own names and addresses, or those of a friend or family member struggling to get by, on the gold coins, which they then delivered to LePage’s office in a long processing winding through the State House.