Sunday, July 3, 2011

The State Budget and Poverty

Op-ed at

By Alice Bolstridge, Special to the BDN
Posted May 26, 2011, at 6:42 p.m.
I grew up in poverty in the ’30s, ’40s and ’50s. With a crippled father and a sickly mother, neither one of whom completed elementary school, we often were dependent on state welfare and charity from relatives and neighbors for the basic necessities of food, clothing and health care.
All six of us siblings eventually worked our way out of poverty and far enough up the rungs of the middle-class ladder that we could provide through work the basics for ourselves most of the time and contribute as taxpayers. Though some of my siblings would argue that they pulled themselves up by their own bootstraps, as “rugged individualist” wisdom suggests we all should, I know that none of us do it by ourselves.
First, we survived childhood as healthy as we did with the aid of a social safety net that provided for much of our food and health care. Second, we all were educated through high school by a publicly funded education system. Third, we all received some sort of training beyond high school that was in large measure publicly funded.
Upon graduation from high school, my older sister received a scholarship to a business school that led to a job in the Veterans’ Administration, where she spent her entire career helping to administer the design and construction of veterans’ hospitals, a publicly funded enterprise. All four of my brothers joined the publicly funded military after high school, which provided not only training useful in later civilian life but also some lifelong health benefits.
My publicly funded education provided a few great teachers who awakened my sleepy brain and nurtured my intellectual development all the way through higher education and beyond. Yes, I paid for a good part of my adult education by teaching part time, but I also was helped by scholarships and publicly funded grants. Other forms of education, in whole or in part publicly funded, such as PBS and senior education, continue through old age.
With this proposed Maine state budget, the important social safety nets that are the major drivers in lifting people out of poverty and into tax-paying status are under threat. The proposed changes to pension and health care contributions of teachers and other state workers can only serve to discourage great teachers like I have known as well as those who work with the mentally and physically challenged, many of whom can become taxpayers with the right care.

The budget proposes egregious cuts to Maine’s poor workers, particularly in the area of health care, cuts that can only serve to increase the costs to the rest of us.
Increasing the economic distress of the poor, which this budget proposal would do, cannot improve the Maine economy overall. Neither can other actions such as recent passage of the health insurance bill, LD 1333, and the removal of the labor mural from the Department of Labor building in Augusta, which reflects the administration’s lack of respect for Maine’s labor force, a vital necessity to the Maine economy.

The policies and proposed budget of this administration and Legislature amount to economic attacks on teachers, state workers, low-earning wage workers and micro-businesses, which together are vital to the Maine economy. Such actions only serve to exacerbate the problem of poverty, not just for the poor but for all of us. And for what? To give tax breaks that further enrich the already rich?

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