Lawmakers should invest in the needs of Maine families

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Amy Halsted and Jesse Graham are co-directors of the Maine People’s Alliance.

Last month, Gov. Janet Mills released her change package, a proposed budget for Maine over the next two years. This proposal may look dry, but it’s actually a powerful statement about priorities for our state.

Right now, Maine is in a housing crisis; the cost of living is skyrocketing; and many Mainers can’t access healthcare or childcare.

Instead of facing these crises head on, Mills is proposing that the state spend $4.6 million to establish the new Dirigo Business Incentive Program, which would give money away to wealthy corporations for their efforts to train and grow Maine’s workforce.

Once established, the Maine Center for Economic Policy calculates this program will cost the state an estimated $54.5 million in its first year. That’s more than $1 billion over the next 20 years that could otherwise be used to directly address Mainers’ urgent needs, and build our state’s future.

Business tax breaks already cost Maine more than $1 billion each year (nearly as much as we spend on education). And we’re not sure they really help, with corporations much more likely to use these tax giveaways to benefit their stockholders than they are to use them to invest in workers and communities. We do know, though, that they often don’t help the small businesses that are the backbone of Maine’s economy.

We need to do better, and invest in meeting the needs Maine families and workers have right now. Several bills in the Legislature now will, if passed and fully funded, have positive, measurable, effects on Mainers’ lives today, and help address Maine’s workforce problems into the future.

A comprehensive paid family and medical leave program like that proposed in LD 1964 can have  tremendous impacts for families and individuals — and it’s also good for the economy, because it keeps more people in the workforce, and reduces costs and increases productivity for businesses.

Programs like the Child Tax Credit help kids their whole lives as well as increasing work participation and helping local economies. LD 1544 would boost our state’s dependent exemption tax credit (Maine’s child tax credit) to $350 and make it fully refundable, so families with the lowest incomes — who most need the credit — can access it.

Another proven way to help Mainers (and our state’s workforce) is by helping everyone afford child care. Most Maine parents need child care, but many are forced to work less or to leave the workforce altogether, because they can’t access or afford it. LD 1726 would help parents and providers now, and establish a pathway to making child care affordable, accessible and stable for everyone.

Mills’ change package makes significant investments in housing, but more is needed. The housing crisis is an urgent and acute problem in Maine — and one that’s having a strong negative impact on our workforce. We must support rental assistance for Mainers with low incomes as we build more housing for the future.

LD 1710 would protect tenants against discrimination and help more renters to be able to afford decent housing. It helps fund these investments through a modest increase in the tax on high-end real estate sales, so the owners of luxury homes pay what they owe to support the housing we all need.

Finally, Mainers born in other countries are a vital part of our state’s economic success now and in the future. But many people who emigrated to Maine cannot access health care. This session, we can ensure health care coverage is available for all Mainers who need it, no matter who they are or where they’re from. LD 199 would fix a restriction that Gov. Paul LePage put in place in 2011, and would reinstate MaineCare eligibility for everyone who qualifies, regardless of immigration status.

Lawmakers have the opportunity to craft and pass a budget that meets the moment and invests

in our state’s future. Let’s remember what works, and put those programs to work to help Mainers.