By Robert E. Macdonald
Mayor of Lewiston
I write this week’s column pleading to the governor and the Democratic and Republican Legislative leaderships to find common ground and restore revenue sharing to Maine cities and towns.
For the benefit of our readers, the revenues distributed to the cities and towns are derived from a formula in which a portion of the state’s sales tax receipts are distributed to the cities and towns. Cities and towns then use this money to keep property taxes down.
This is not some form of municipal welfare. Sales tax revenues are the result of cities and towns investing local taxes in infrastructure, municipal services and providing an attractive place to live and do business. The more businesses and people we attract to our area, the greater the sales tax receipts.
To this mixture, we add the expensive unfounded state and federal mandates thrust upon our cities and towns. These mandates serve to add another burden to our local property taxpayers. In Lewiston, we were forced to create a stormwater fee, which insures that nobody (such as non-profits) are exempt.
The fee has caused quite a stir among property owners. However, without this fee, property owners would see a substantial increase in their water bills.
Fortunately, we are not in the predicament the City of Portland finds itself in. Because they failed to carry out a federal water mandate in a timely fashion, they now face two multi-million-dollar fines.
Over the past two years, we have worked hard to greatly improve the City of Lewiston—this with a minimum of outside help. Two years ago, HUD told us they would provide funds to tear down vacant buildings. They must have lost our phone number.
But even without their support, we were able to tear down a considerable amount of vacant property. Thanks to Governor LePage sending prisoners to clean up and reduce the fire load in our downtown residential area, we experienced a temporary removal of blight.
We are continuing to implement our River Front Development plans, adding a hotel on Lincoln Street and soon creating a new impressive entrance to Simard Payne Park. We are pressing forward with bike and walking trails.
Lisbon Street is becoming a desired location for restaurants, businesses and market-rate housing. We cannot afford to lose or slow our gains. Our success helps state government successfully fill state coffers. Don’t stymie us by taking away our revenue sharing.
Last Thursday, the Mayors’ Coalition sat down with the Republican leadership to plead our case as to why revenue sharing should continue. Senator Michael Thibodeau of Winterport told us the state faces a $200 million hole. Then he stated that each year we come with our hands out and inquired why we never spoke about budget cuts.
I immediately piped up, telling him that last year Lewiston had submitted a bill sponsored by Senator Garrett Mason of Lisbon that would have brought Maine into compliance with federal laws. This would have reduced Maine welfare rolls considerably.
This bill was killed in the Health and Human Services Committee by Committee Chair Margaret Craven of Lewiston and six of her cronies. This prevented it from coming to the floor of both Houses, where legislators would have had to go on record either supporting or not supporting the bill.
Augusta Mayor William Stokes spoke about DHHS failing to make sure the codes (bills) submitted by medical facilities matched the services the facility provided to the client. This results in expensive errors that are forwarded to the Maine Attorney General’s Office for rectification.
I am a proud ally of Governor Paul R. LePage. However, unlike many state legislators, I do not march in lockstep with our Governor. On revenue sharing, our duties come into conflict. He oversees a state with a $200 million deficit. He needs revenue sources to fill that gap and ease the burden on Maine taxpayers. Withholding revenue sharing and applying it to the deficit helps towards solving his problem.
Throughout his term, Governor LePage has been cast as evil by Democrats, the media and special interest groups for trying to bring our state budget in line through cuts, similar to what the average family must do to balance their family budget.
Democrats operate by a different philosophy. Raise taxes on institutions arbitrarily deemed to be making too much money or cut certain tax breaks to other businesses. Currently there is a bill before the Legislature to take away a long-time tax break given to retail stores. You know, places that hire employees that are just above the working poor. But, hey, better them than cutting benefits to our state wards (welfare recipients).
There is also talk floating around in the halls of the State House to charge a fee to non-profits. Not all non-profits, only those that are deemed to generate a lot of money, like hospitals. Apparently, the Democrats haven’t gotten over the fact that they were forced to pay the money owed the hospitals for outstanding Medicaid debt. It appears they have not given up their fight to retrieve a portion of these funds and use them to alleviate the suffering of the poor.
The cities and towns need revenue sharing. The question now remains: Do we find the money by cuts to state programs or do we continue to punish and tax businesses?