Rep. Berry: Dems Focus on Economy, Middle Class
Health care, education, tax fairness and innovation economy are key in second session
Strengthening the economy and growing the middle class. Those are our goals as Democrats in Maine’s Legislature. We’re proud of what we accomplished so far and are optimistic about what we’ll do when we reconvene.
I’m House Majority Leader Seth Berry of Bowdoinham. Thank you for tuning in. In January, we’ll have a new set of bills to consider. But Democrats’ focus – as always – remains on the economy and the middle class. We know that the best way to grow the economy is from the middle out – not the top down. And it’s clear that there are ways to make that happen. It’s things like making health care available to more Mainers, supporting our students, growing our innovation economy, having a fair tax code and creating opportunity. This week, legislative leaders decided which bills will be in the second session. With our economy struggling to catch up, we kept an eye out for proposals to strengthen our economy and middle class.
Health care is an enormous issue. That’s why we’re pushing for Maine to accept the federal government’s offer to cover more Mainers. Last session, the governor vetoed a bipartisan measure that would have allowed the federal government to pay for 100 percent of the expansion costs for three years and at least 90 percent after that. Now, nearly 25,000 Mainers will lose their health care coverage in January. Another 55,000 who could have gained coverage won’t have it. The federal deal will inject money into our economy. We’ll be losing out on an additional $700,000 a day, starting in January, simply because we didn’t say yes. This January, we need to accept federal dollars to make sure every family has a family doctor.
I’m pleased about the early childhood education measures also. As someone who taught in public schools for two decades, I’ve seen how important those early years are. Science now shows 90 percent of brain development happens by age three, and that early learning yields the best return on investment. That’s why we will have bills to restore funding to programs like Head Start – funding that was cut by the governor and the previous, Republican-controlled Legislature. We want more young Mainers to have opportunities for success.
Higher education, too, helps Mainers compete for 21st century jobs – and dramatically increase earning potential. Over a lifetime, someone with a four-year degree earns $1.3 million more than someone with a high school diploma only. College has to be within the reach of more Mainers. One bill would let students go to the University of Maine System tuition-free and pay a fixed percentage of their income back to the state over a 20-year period.
Our innovation economy is an area that holds great promise, one that needs smart investments. That’s why we’ll consider a long-overdue research and development bond. Maine lags in this area. We invest at only half the level of the nation as a whole and not even at one-quarter of New England’s rate. Yet we know that every dollar of state R&D investment returns $12 in economic benefits to Maine. That’s a great return – one we can’t afford to pass up.
Tax fairness is another area we’ll tackle. The bipartisan compromise budget we passed earlier this year blunted the massive property tax hikes in the governor’s proposal. But there’s more that Democrats want to do. Property taxes are one of the most regressive forms of taxation, since middle-class people have most of their wealth in their homes. To strengthen our economy and create greater opportunity for all, we’ll be looking at ways to increase a property tax credit for working families.
This is just a small preview of the important work ahead in January. I hope you’ll stay tuned in to your State House when we reconvene to do the people’s business.