May 9, 2013

MAINE COMPASS: LePage budget shatters trust between state, municipalities

Charlotte Warren

Hallowell is a great city, just not a very big one. We have awesome community spirit, but not a large tax base.

We care about each other, our public safety and the prosperity of our businesses and our families. We are deeply committed to our seniors and their economic security and to our kids and their education. Above all, we believe in doing right and making choices that are fair for everyone.

I've helped negotiate 12 municipal budgets during my eight years on Hallowell City Council and nearly four years as mayor. Each year, as costs increase and state funding shrinks further, budget writing gets harder and harder. This year, it's nearly impossible.

As mayor of Hallowell, I oppose Gov. Paul LePage's state budget for a variety of reasons. And I can say with confidence I do not stand alone on this.

Opposition to the LePage budget is widespread, as witnessed by the hundreds of Mainers who spoke out at public hearings and the more than 75 towns and cities, including Hallowell, that have passed resolutions against LePage's budget.

To protect his cuts to income and estate taxes that disproportionately benefit the wealthy few, his budget shifts the costs to middle- and low-income families.

LePage proposes an elimination of municipal revenue sharing, created by the Legislature expressly to reduce property taxes. That will cost Hallowell nearly $200,000 next year.

LePage cuts state education funding and shifts costs for teacher retirement to local schools, slashing nearly a half-million dollars from an RSU budget we've already slashed painfully in recent years.

The new cuts will tear a nearly $600,000 hole in our $4.5 million city budget.

That's $230 for every man, woman and child in Hallowell. It's more than the cost of our police force and public works department combined. It's roughly equivalent to eliminating the entire Hall-Dale High School and Middle School math departments and the entire High School English department.

To make up for that loss, Hallowell -- like other cities and towns throughout Maine -- faces the impossible choice either to raise property taxes or cut essential services such as police, public works and education.

In recent years, we have pared our budget to the bone, as the governor and Legislature repeatedly cut revenue sharing and failed to fulfill the voter-approved mandate to cover 55 percent of the cost of education.

Mainers are working hard to rebuild our economy, create jobs and get more money in the pockets of hard-working men and women who struggle daily just to make ends meet.

Beyond the impact this budget will have in local communities, and on the already stretched budgets of Maine's working families, it also breaches the trust between state and local governments.

Government is a contract and a partnership between the state and local municipalities. It doesn't work well if either one falters. When we fail to work together, our citizens pay the price.

In Hallowell, we take that partnership seriously. Voters in Hallowell elected me -- and the rest of the City Council -- to lead. We have a responsibility to maintain local public services, provide our children a quality education and strengthen the viability of our businesses.

It's our job to keep Hallowell a desirable place to live, work and raise a family. Each year, as we painstakingly craft our budget, we expect the state to respect our partnership and live up to its obligations.

Unfortunately, LePage has shattered that sacred trust.

We need our legislators to right this wrong.

I know that many of our legislators are working hard to restore the budget, repair this partnership and do what's best for Maine people. I urge all of them to lead us in the right direction.

Hallowell stands ready to work with them to build a stronger, more prosperous Maine. It's the right thing to do.

Charlotte Warren is mayor of the city of Hallowell.

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