By Bruce Poliquin
My two-year term as Maine State Treasurer ended Monday. I’ve been humbled and honored by the privilege to serve the State Legislature and the hard-working people of Maine. I thank you deeply for this rewarding opportunity.
The Maine Legislature elects our four Constitutional Officers, including the State Treasurer. The November elections returned the legislative majority back to the Democrat Party, where it had been for most of the past 40 years.
The incoming majority elected the current State Auditor and former Democrat State Senator Neria Douglass as our next State Treasurer. I congratulate Treasurer-elect Douglass and have been pleased to assist with her smooth transition.
Two years ago, our Great State faced a number of daunting fiscal challenges: $4.1 billion of pension benefits had been promised to 70,000 active and retired public school teachers and state employees that Augusta did not have funds to cover. State government owed roughly $500 million to Maine hospitals for Medicaid (MaineCare) services already provided to program enrollees. The increasing cost of our Medicaid program had been crowding out the State’s ability to fund other core services like road/bridge construction and repair.
Federal stimulus money used to balance the state budget was running out. Wasteful spending of taxpayer dollars, or worse, was surfacing at the Maine Turnpike Authority, Maine State Housing Authority and other organs of state government.
Each of these serious problems, some of which are still with us today, shakes the financial foundation of state government and, therefore, our state economy and the lives of 1.3 million fellow Mainers. Because of the trust that you placed in me, I was able to engage the Office of the State Treasurer to help find real solutions for these and other pressing issues.
Here are some positive changes that we, together, helped to make for Maine families and businesses during the past two years:
More secure retirement funding for school teachers and state employees. Reforming the pension plan eliminated $1.7 billion (41%) of our public pension debt and reduced government spending by roughly $200 million per year. The largest tax cut in Maine history followed, primarily benefiting the working poor.
More affordable housing for Maine’s most vulnerable families. Lowering the costs of tax-subsidized apartments by 36% in 2013 will provide more at-risk Maine families with safe housing just as federal funds might begin drying up.
End wasteful government spending. Three-day trips to New York, including $4,000 celebratory dinners, to sign routine financial transactions have stopped.
Lower interest payments on state borrowing. Requiring Wall Street to compete to buy our bonds is saving Maine taxpayers $ millions of future interest costs.
Retain Maine’s “AA/Aa2” credit rating. This will hold down interest payments for Maine taxpayers when state government must borrow. A solid credit rating also helps to attract business investment and more jobs.
Lower investment management fees for families saving for college tuition in Maine’s NextGen College Savings Plan.
Replace board members at quasi-independent authorities. Real-world business professionals are improving accountability at organizations such as the Maine Turnpike Authority and Maine State Housing Authority.
Facilitate expansion of natural gas pipelines. Lowering the cost to heat our homes and businesses and to operate our mills and factories will help create additional jobs.
These positive changes are building a solid foundation for a stronger Maine economy with more opportunities, and less government dependency, for our kids and grandkids. An increasingly affordable and fiscally disciplined state government, living within its means and taxing our families and businesses only what is necessary, will help attract business investment and more jobs to Maine.
All the while, the growing tax revenues will better enable us to care for our most disadvantaged citizens.
Washington has shown that more government spending, more debt, higher taxes and more complicated regulations smother jobs and economic freedom. I encourage the new state Legislature to continue to put Maine’s fiscal house in order and to allow more of your hard-earned money to remain in your own pockets.
Combined with lower health insurance premiums and expanded educational choices for students, the new Legislature would create even more incentives for businesses investment and more jobs for our fellow Mainers. We shouldn’t have to constantly worry about how to keep our kids and their families here in Maine. Quality of life must include a paycheck.
During the past two years, I never tired of the stunning beauty of the lighted dome above our State Capitol, framed by the proudly waving American and Maine flags. Turning off the lights at Treasury, I was reminded of the thousands of Maine taxpayer customers who shared with me their concerns for better lives in our beloved state. You taught me that good government is helping the most people with the fewest tax dollars.
Together, we made a big difference in two short years. Thank you for that opportunity.