Forecaster Forum: LePage, GOP have Maine on right track

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Maine’s future can be brighter than its past. Granted, after decades of one-party, liberal rule that’s worthy of Detroit or Greece, that shouldn’t be hard to do.

Democratic politicians and their political allies who stand to profit from an expansion of Maine’s medical welfare program under the ObamaCare law are advocating a new, record expansion of the program to at least 70,000 able-bodied young adults.

In 2001, Maine embarked on an expansion of its Medicaid program that has wreaked havoc on our budget, our taxpayers, and other budget priorities ever since. Originally designed for disabled people, children, and elderly people in nursing homes, Democrats expanded Medicaid to thousands of able-bodied, mostly young, working-age adults.

They promised that these people would be less apt to use the emergency room as opposed to doctors’ offices. Multiple studies have proven them wrong.

They promised that expansion would reduce the number of uninsured Mainers, but the number who are uninsured has remained roughly the same as many simply dropped private coverage for free, taxpayer-funded plans.

They promised that Maine hospitals would have to provide less free care to people, but charity care has roughly tripled since the last expansion.

They promised in 2001 that expansion would be affordable, but their cost and enrollment estimates were shattered.

Since the expansions of Medicaid years ago, Maine’s medical welfare program has become the third largest in the nation per capita. Medicaid spending has doubled as a share of the state budget since 1998 to 25 percent of all state spending, and is projected to consume 40 percent within 10 years even if we don’t expand again.

Medicaid ran up a massive hospital debt that Gov. Paul LePage and Republican lawmakers finally paid over Democrats’ objections. Thousands of disabled Mainers languish on Medicaid waiting lists and our nursing homes go under-funded. Doing right by them will be much harder, if not impossible, if we expand to able-bodied adults again.

Every year, our state faces massive budget shortfalls, caused almost entirely by Medicaid cost overruns that cannibalize the rest of state government and lead to tax hikes. Lawmakers have even raided oil spill cleanup funds just to plug the welfare-induced leaks in our budget.

It’s time to say enough.

It’s time to chart a new course for Maine, a course that leads us to more jobs and less welfare. Fortunately, Gov. LePage and Republican lawmakers who held the majority in 2011-2012 set us on that course.

In 2011, Suffolk University estimated that our tax relief package would pump enough money back into the private sector to create 3,700 new jobs by 2015. It’s 2014 and there are over 13,000 more Mainers at work than there were when that tax relief was proposed.

We streamlined business regulations, cut the state’s pension shortfall nearly in half, reduced welfare eligibility, created new job training programs, and expanded the availability of affordable natural gas, attracting new jobs and investment to Maine. These important, pro-growth reforms have reduced Maine’s unemployment rate from eight to 6.2 percent.

Best of all, the unemployment drop is real. Nationally, unemployment is dropping because people are simply giving up on their work search. In Maine, however, the data shows our unemployment rate drops are due to people finding work, not giving up on it.

As for health care, Republicans reformed Maine’s cumbersome old insurance regulations, allowing insurers to charge young people less, allowing people to buy insurance across state lines, and more.

According to the last numbers before ObamaCare kicked in, roughly eight times as many small businesses are seeing rate decreases and only one-quarter as many are seeing large rate hikes of 20 percent or more. Plans on the individual market were up to 70 percent less expensive.

Furthermore, most of those who are eligible for the Democrats’ Medicaid expansion proposal are already eligible for heavily subsidized private plans from the federal government for $4-$10 per week.

We cannot turn back now.

After decades of failed, big-government policies that encouraged inter-generational welfare dependency and treated private sector businesses as mules to carry the weight of government, Maine is finally seeing a light at the end of the tunnel.

Thanks to Gov. LePage and Republican reforms, we have broken with the status quo and forged a new path toward prosperity and fiscal responsibility.

Sidebar Elements

Rep. Amy Volk, R-Scarborough, serves on the Legislature’s Labor, Commerce, Research, and Economic Development Committee.