May 27, 2011
Democratic Weekly Address 2011-05-27

Good morning. And, thank you for tuning in to the Democratic Weekly Radio Address. I’m Senator Justin Alfond—Assistant Democratic Leader from Portland.

We are just ten days away from wrapping up the legislative session and, there is still a lot to do. Hundreds of bills need to be voted on and we have to pass a two year budget. Everyone understands the massive work ahead.

Democrats and Republicans agree that recovery from this economic downturn is job number one. Improving the business climate, creating jobs, and developing economic priorities unite us.

However, the distinctions between Republicans and Democrats has become more clear as we progress through the legislative session. Week after week, bill after bill, Democrats continue to stand up and fight for the working people of Maine. And, time and again, we are faced with opposition from the GOP—who is fighting equally hard for big-business and out of state interests. You need only look to what has happened in the last couple of days to see that their actions certainly speak louder than words.

Republican lawmakers are fighting hard to give tax breaks to the wealthiest among us. Just this week, they gave a free pass to those inheriting between one million and five million dollars. This will benefit just six hundred people. These six hundred people, who are given more than a million dollars, will not have to pay taxes to the state of Maine. Seems to me that’s a pretty generous gift to be giving at a time when Mainers are tightening our belts. Gift giving comes at a cost. And the cost for this gift is seventy-three million dollars. How will Maine pay for this cost? The GOP’s plan calls for nearly 4,000 working people of Maine to pay more in their taxes so that the millionaires don’t. Republicans preach fiscal responsibility and personal responsibility. Yet while they are granting a free lunch to the millionaires’-club, they are asking teachers and state workers to “share in the pain.” At a time when tough decisions are being made like reducing support in all areas of the budget including to Maine’s elderly, we should not be giving a tax break that focuses exclusively on the wealthiest among us.

Adding insult to injury, Republican lawmakers voted against increasing the minimum wage by fifty cents over the next two years. That’s right. Fifty CENTS over two years. So the minimum wage would go from $7.50 per hour to $8.00 an hour. In defending a worker’s right to earn a liveable wage, Democrats were told that “minimum wage earners are not poor.” That’s right, you heard me. The GOP believes earning less than $15,000 isn’t poor. Well then, I ask this: if it’s not poor then is it a liveable wage? I have an offer for the GOP. Let’s ask the thirty-five percent of working Mainers who earn $7.50 an hour if this is a liveable wage. Or we can also look at recent statistics that show in order to meet a “basic needs budget”–a budget that factors in the cost of food, housing, transportation, health care, child care, and clothing—a job would have to pay TWICE the existing minimum wage.

Republicans argue that raising the minimum wage hurts business. My Democratic colleagues and I would argue that not mandating a liveable wage hurts people and families. And to quote my good colleague, Senator Stan Gerzofsky, “We need to remember who we are here to fight for. Minimum wage helps PEOPLE and if it is our job to help Mainers come out of the recession then we must do something about it.” Let’s not forget our history—it was not the American people who caused the recession. It was corporate greed. Let’s not forget that the middle class was borne from the aftermath of the Great Depression—which created the minimum wage. When we pay higher wages, all of us are better off, not just some of us.

Understanding that we are not the majority party, Democrats are in a different role. We are no longer steering the ship. And while we can’t make all of the changes we want, we will not sit idly by and be accomplices to the Republican hypocrisy. Democrats will not neglect Maine people and workers.

So I can’t predict what the next ten days will look like. There’s no doubt tough decisions will be made. There’s no question that the state will be leaner than ever. But, we have to continue asking ourselves the questions “at what expense” and “what unintended long term consequences” are we willing to take? Tax cuts come at a cost. We must be judicious with our spending and our cutting. And we must remember that for every decision we make there’s someone in our state who will be impacted. Democrats remain committed to walking the walk and standing up for the people of Maine.

Thank you for listening and have a good weekend.

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