Thursday, October 23, 2008

2008 Maine Symposium on Poverty -

Maine Symposium on Poverty,
Economic & Food Security
October 27, 2008
at the Augusta Civic Center

In the year 2008, in a nation with the largest economy in the world, there are more than 37 million people living in poverty and far more unable to make ends meet. We have the highest child poverty rate of all industrialized nations. Here in Maine, there are more than 130,000 people living in poverty including more than 14 percent of all children.

Poverty exacts a human and financial toll that has become too great to bear. It is a condition that hinders human and community development. It constrains budgets and stilts economic growth. To better our communities and labor force and to allow all Maine people the opportunity to flourish, we will have to rethink the way we fight poverty.

Join us at this year’s poverty symposium as we evaluate past policies, ponder underutilized resources, and propose new ideas for ending poverty.

There is no cost to attend the Symposium.

Click here for results from the 2007 Symposium.

Contact Information: Susan Richards Western Maine Community Action

Mailing Address:

Susan Richards

Western Maine Community Action

PO Box 200, East Wilton, Maine 04234


For General Information -

PLEASE NOTE: You may register by calling Susan at 645-3764 ext. 5280.

You may either fill your form out and submit online, or print out a form using the link below, following mailing instructions on the form.

Click here for Printable Form

Space is limited - reserve your space early.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Bono, U2 lead singer and founder of the ONE Campaign

Bono, U2 lead singer and founder of the ONE Campaign, urges world leaders to meet the UN Millennium Development Goals to end extreme poverty. To see more and take action, visit

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

The Violence Inherent in the System

Monty Python and the Holy Grail

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Pope urges Australian youths to spurn materialism

Pope urges Australian youths to spurn materialism

By KRISTEN GELINEAU, Associated Press Writer
Sun Jul 20, 7:29 AM ET

Pope Benedict XVI said Sunday a "spiritual desert" was spreading throughout the world and he challenged young people to shed the greed and cynicism of their time to create a new age of hope for humankind.

Speaking at a Mass before some 350,000 Roman Catholic pilgrims and a likely television audience of millions more, Benedict wrapped up the church's six-day World Youth Day festival. He urged the young people in his more than 1 billion-strong flock to be agents of change because "the world needs renewal."

"In so many of our societies, side by side with material prosperity, a spiritual desert is spreading: an interior emptiness, an unnamed fear, a quiet sense of despair," the pontiff said.
The appeal came as Benedict finished a visit to Australia that touched on the themes that have defined his three-year-old papacy, including the struggle to rejuvenate a crisis-battered Church, reaching out to other faiths and raising global warming as an important issue.

The 81-year-old pope said it was up to a new generation of Christians to build a world in "which God's gift of life is welcomed, respected and cherished — not rejected, feared as a threat and destroyed."

They must embrace the power of God "to let it break through the curse of our indifference, our spiritual weariness, our blind conformity to the spirit of this age," he said.

The aim was "a new age in which hope liberates us from the shallowness, apathy and self-absorption which deadens our souls and poisons our relationships," he said.

The Mass came a day after the pope made a forceful apology for the sexual abuse of children by Australia's Roman Catholic clergy, keeping up efforts begun in the United States to publicly atone for what he called evil acts by priests.

The Mass was delivered at a horse racetrack filled with pilgrims who had camped out overnight.
Vatican spokesman Rev. Federico Lombardi said 350,000 attended Sunday's Mass. Australian organizers surmised a global television audience of up to 500 million during big World Youth Day events.

The pope flew over the scene early Sunday in a helicopter — dubbed "the holy-copter" by bleary-eyed pilgrims below — to see the assemblage swarmed all over the track in a jumble of sleeping bags, backpacks and other personal items.

He later took a slow drive through the crowd, stopping once to plant a kiss on the forehead of a toddler held up to the popemobile's window. Pilgrims from more than 160 countries gave him a rock-star welcome, waving the flags of their nations, cheering and chanting: "Benedicto! Benedicto!" — the pope's Italian name.

The pope was due to leave Australia for the Vatican on Monday. He announced that Madrid, Spain, would host the next World Youth Day in 2011 and told the pilgrims: "I look forward to seeing you again in three years' time."

Benedict, who shrugged off the effects of a longer-than 20-hour flight from Rome and kept a hectic schedule during his time in Australia, coughed a couple of times during Sunday's Mass and at one point blew his nose, prompting reporters to ask about his health.

"It was chilly, and everybody felt it, no?" Lombardi said. "But he is in fine health."
Associated Press Writer Victor L. Simpson in Sydney contributed to this report.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Mandela's B-Day message: Rich should help poor

Mandela's B-Day message: Rich should help poor

By CELEAN JACOBSON, Associated Press Writer

Nelson Mandela celebrated his 90th birthday Friday by urging the wealthy to share their prosperity with the less fortunate and by saying he wished he had been able to spend more time with his family during the anti-apartheid struggle.

In an interview at his home in rural southeastern South Africa, the anti-apartheid icon was asked if he had a message for the world.

"There are many people in South Africa who are rich and who can share those riches with those not so fortunate who have not been able to conquer poverty," Mandela said.

Accompanied by his wife, Graca Machel, a smiling Mandela walked into his private lounge in the large home he built in Qunu, before sitting in his favorite yellow armchair and addressing a small gathering of reporters from The Associated Press and other outlets for about 15 minutes. It was his first such exchange with journalists in years.

Mandela, sounding and looking vigorous, said he was fortunate to have reached 90, but in the countryside and in the towns "poverty has gripped our people.

"If you are poor, you are not likely to live long," he said. He credited his "behavior" for his own longevity.

At one point, a granddaughter brought in a bowl of flowers and gave Mandela a birthday kiss. He was asked if he wished he had had more time with his family during a life spent fighting apartheid and then leading South Africa as its first black president.

"I am sure for many people that is their wish," he said. "I also have that wish that I spent more time (with my family). But I don't regret it."

Mandela was imprisoned for nearly three decades for his fight against apartheid.

He was released in 1990 to lead negotiations that ended decades of racist white rule. He was elected president in South Africa's first democratic elections in 1994. After serving one five-year term, he devoted himself to campaigning against poverty, illiteracy and AIDS in Africa. But he has been slowed by age in recent years, cutting back on public appearances and spending more time with his family. He often spends holidays and his birthdays in Qunu.

Wearing one of his signature patterned shirts, this one in shades of green, gold and black, he glanced pensively out a window at the start of the interview.

"This is my property. When I am here, I feel I own something," he said of the rural area 600 miles south of Johannesburg where he spent his youth. In his autobiography, he describes herding cattle in the hills around Qunu as a boy.

Soon after the interview, a group of seven or eight grandchildren crowded around Mandela's chair, sang "Happy Birthday" and kissed him. His legs were propped up on a large stool and covered with a pale yellow blanket. A pile of newspapers sat next to his chair.

The room was full of birthday presents from all over the world — a portrait, a bust, a collection of photography books — all featuring him — from well-known artists.

While Mandela was celebrating quietly in Qunu, events were taking place across the country in his honor.

Two runners holding South African flags circled Robben Island, where Mandela spent most of his 27 years in jail. At nearby Drakenstein prison, known as Victor Verster when Mandela was held their briefly at the end of his term, a prisoners' choir and a band performed for a live broadcast on state television, and prisoners who had created portraits of Mandela handed them over to Correctional Services Minister Ngconde Balfour, who was to pass them on to Mandela.

"We are saying Mr. Mandela is 90 today; he gave a lot back to the country; he united us," said a prisons' spokesman, Mark Solomons.

In Johannesburg, children celebrated with birthday cake at the offices of the foundation Mandela founded after stepping down as president in 1999, and his African National Congress unfurled giant banners featuring his image at its downtown headquarters.

Qunu, meanwhile, had spruced up for the day.

On Thursday, gardeners mowed the lawn leading up to the museum honoring Mandela, a crew added a new layer of tarmac to the road outside his house, and a school choir rehearsed a song it created especially for him.

Mandela helped raise funds so the school could build new classrooms and move out of a dilapidated mud structure.

"He has done a lot for us, specially for the school," said its principal, Mpondomise Ndzambo. "He suffered a lot trying to get this South Africa to be free and fair. I think he is a great man."

Copyright © 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. The information contained in the AP News report may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without the prior written authority of The Associated Press.

Copyright © 2008 Yahoo! Inc. All rights reserved

Monday, June 16, 2008

Class distinctions hide America's greatest divisions [PPH/Column]

FORUM [ Portland Press Herald ]

Class distinctions hide America's greatest divisions

Possessors of great wealth not only direct the nation, they ignore its neediest members.

By Leigh Donaldson

June 16, 2008

When I moved to Boston in the late 1980s, all the real estate agents could find for me in my limited price range was a one-room basement flat – with a brass knocker on the door.

For a month's salary and an eye-boggling finder's fee, I was permitted to sign 20 pages of legal excess and move my meager boxes through the rear, the servants' entrance in times past.

Never mind that the hot water was dicey for two weeks and that the kitchen smelled of cat and mildew, I had landed a bargain by all standards. Some months later, I met the owner of the building, who lived in the top-floor flat.

A third-generation millionaire Brahmin with white hair and steel-blue eyes, he allowed himself a long, frozen overview of me, taking in my humble surroundings.

At that rent, I was having none of it, so I threw back one of my own fearless gazes and asked impertinently, "Can I help you?"

Something about my tone and akimbo-stance caused both us to burst out in laughter. After that, we became friends who recognized that we shared a common humanity. I needed an affordable place to live in, and he, funds for upkeep. Caste and social hierarchy flew out his grimy, cracked, drafty windows.

Throughout history, and especially during this presidential campaign, class labels have been tossed about like too much confetti.

"Working-class voters," "the middle-class vote," as distinguished from "the white-working class vote" and "the 'elite' vote," are a few examples.

According to a recent Nation article by Zephyr Teachout, The New York Times has run 324 references to "middle-class" and 220 to "working-class" in political stories in the three months ending May 23.

Use of the term "class" is troublesome, regardless of the context. But its use in all variations is apparently here to stay.

Beyond the average person's comprehension is what I'd call the ruling class or "power elite," that small and often anonymous group of people who reflect the top layers of the corporate world, i.e. CEOs, board chairpersons and, in some cases, the independently wealthy.

These are the people who, believe it or not, have a disproportionate influence on our nation's priorities. The ruling class usually consists of individuals wealthy enough not to be concerned about bill collectors, rent hikes, mortgage payments, day-care fees, losing their job, rising gas prices and so on.

The power elite, a more hidden group of people, make and affect policy in the private and public sector on levels that influence the way this country is run.

Many people at this economic level protect their own interests at the expense of others. In many cases, they have controlled media content and the way elected officials vote, for example.
And, there is a clear difference between a person with a few million dollars to toss into the air and someone with $100 million.

People with the latter kind of ready cash can own and control the means of production and distribution of much of what the rest of us think we need and crave.

Ivy League schools and old money go out the window when there are cold greenbacks slapped on the table.

Perhaps the days of old wealth are gone. Certainly a mixture of family money and talent has resulted in a smattering of socially conscious individuals.

But too many rich ancestors never stopped their ruthless pursuits to take a hard look at the common human being.

Obsession with acquiring assets continues to sustain huge economic disparity throughout the world.

Because of the indifference of many among the wealthy power elite, other people are starving, homeless and otherwise disfranchised from society.

What troubles me the most is how we so easily neglect the poor in both private and public discourse. The ever-growing "working poor" population is even more disturbing. Politicians are reluctant to even invoke the word "poor" in their forums, as if such people are not human.
People who cannot afford to feed themselves and their children are not only victims of circumstances, but of the utter indifference of a public too often caught up in their mad dash to make it big – hence rising lottery ticket purchases, game show participation and high-stakes gambling.

My landlord has long passed away, but he left me with a vision more powerful than any diminished dollar could ever express.

His inherited riches never ruled him. It took a lifetime of self-willed effort for him to find personal fulfillment. He was in love with humanity, not wealth.

I know that he would have been proud of this column.

Leigh Donaldson is a Portland writer whose book about the antebellum African-American press in the Northeast is due for publication in 2009. He can be contacted at:

Copyright © 2008 Blethen Maine Newspapers

Friday, June 13, 2008

Take the PLEDGE to Vote Out Poverty!

Martin Luther King Jr. famously warned that a "a nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death." Yet despite King's caution, we are spending hundreds of billions of dollars on a disastrous war in Iraq while 37 million Americans are living in poverty and 3 billion people worldwide live on less than $2 a day.

This election season, we can answer Jesus' call to care for the "least of these" by demanding that candidates go on the record with real plans for addressing poverty in the U.S. and around the world.
Send this petition to:
I pledge to make your commitment to overcoming poverty, which I believe is one of the greatest moral and religious imperatives of our time, central to how I cast my ballot in 2008.I want to hear your specific plans for cutting in half over the next 10 years the number of Americans living in poverty and for achieving the Millennium Development Goals, thereby delivering hope to the billions of people living in extreme poverty around the globe.In the coming months, I'll be working hard to ensure that you address these critical issues -- and to inform my friends, family, congregation, and community members about how you respond.
Signed by:[Your name] [Your address]
Sign this Petition -->

The mission of Sojourners is to articulate the biblical call to social justice, inspiring hope and building a movement to transform individuals, communities, the church, and the world.

Would you like to contribute financially to further Sojourners efforts to
Now is the time to make your contribution to the progressive faith community's voice in the 2008 election cycle and beyond!

Join Sojourners in our Vote Out Poverty campaign, which will make reducing poverty a central issue in the presidential and congressional races in 2008. Our efforts will not end there; your contribution will help us hold those elected officials accountable through our 2009 National Mobilization.

Timing is of the essence as the general election cycle begins. The earlier we start, the more we can spread the word, and the more our voice will be heard.

Here are some of our plans between now and November:

Voter Education Resources: We are developing a nonpartisan brochure that provides guidance on Christian responsibilities to vote based on a broad issues-based platform that goes beyond the hot-button issues. We will distribute an election action toolkit to you - our online constituency.

Poverty Sundays: We will encourage churches nationwide to host election-focused Poverty Sundays during September 2008 and will provide participants with nonpartisan resources.
National Mobilization 2008: As you read this, 300 of our most dedicated activists are in the midst of three days of intensive advocacy and media training. With some of the nation's best faith-based community organizers, including Dr. James Lawson, serving as facilitators, we are preparing these participants to apply effective tactics to transform their communities.

We can feel the energy building, and it shall not be wasted! We will utilize this momentum through our 2009 National Mobilization plan.

In spring 2009, we will organize a major event in Washington that leverages national media attention to the crisis of poverty, mobilizes a national faith constituency around a poverty platform, and demands that elected officials act on poverty. This event will include turning out over 1,000 people in a single day to visit and lobby congressional representatives, and gathering 3,000 to 5,000 people for a rally outside the White House.

Thank you for your support, passion, and will power as we seek to continue our prophetic ministry.

Andrew, Leah, and the rest of the Sojourners team

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Taking from the poor [PHOENIX-050708]

Taking from the poor
Democratic lawmakers show their Republican values

5/7/2008 5:37:38 PM

Number crunching [SIDEBAR ... story below]


Baldacci’s proposed cut

Health & Human Services Department: $92.9 million

Education Department: $46.2 million

Higher education: $9.4 million

Rest of state government: $1.8 million


Ultimate cut

Health & Human Services Department: $64.3 million

Education Department: $46.3 million

Higher education: $4.4 million

Rest of state government: $3.1 million



Using state-employee health-insurance and retiree reserves: $46.8 million

Selling “unclaimed property” stocks and bonds: $9.0 million

Postponing for a year a corporate income-tax deduction: $5.4 million

Dipping into the tax that finances the low-income housing fund: $3.1 million

Reducing commissions given to merchants for lottery tickets: $1.6 million

Other gimmicks: $6.8 million



Medicaid (for poor people’s medical bills): $10.1 million

Services for the mentally ill: $9.8 million

Child welfare services: $8.1 million

Disabled people’s services: $5.6 million

Elder services: $2.5 million

SOURCES: Office of Fiscal and Program Review, State Budget Bureau, other state departments

What values do Maine’s Democrats hold? In advance of their gathering in Augusta at the end of the month to celebrate themselves in their state political convention, let’s examine their values as expressed in the actions of Democratic lawmakers, who control both houses of the Legislature, and of our Democratic governor, John Baldacci, during the recently ended legislative session. Because the state budget is the chief work of any session, it is the best expression of political values under the State House dome — much better, say, than politicians’ rhetoric.

When faced this year with a $190-million, recession-induced shortfall between projected government expenses and tax revenues, Democratic politicians used rhetoric like, “We will not pull the safety net out from under our most vulnerable citizens” (Governor Baldacci) and “Everything should be on the table; there’s no exemption for the business community” from financial pain (Speaker of the House Glenn Cummings).

But their actions belied their rhetoric. As usual, there was an exemption for the business community — and for the wealthy. Baldacci and the Democratic Legislature balanced the budget by cutting deeply into services for the sick, poor, elderly, disabled, and mentally ill. They also slashed state aid to elementary and high schools and funding for the University of Maine and the community colleges.

Not only did the rich and the corporations not get asked to sacrifice to balance the budget (one option would have been to take away some of their roughly $1.5 billion in annual tax breaks), but overwhelming majorities of legislators voted to shovel millions more dollars to them — though at the end of the session the Appropriations Committee couldn’t find the cash to fund these giveaways.

In representative government, your values are shown by whom you value — whom you really represent.


Baldacci called it the most productive session he could remember. In a clip shown on Maine Public Broadcasting’s Maine Watch show, Speaker Cummings enthused about how legislators had increased funding for community colleges and the rest of higher education — though a few moments later, in the live part of the program, veteran reporter Mal Leary warned about political rhetoric and pointed out that Cummings was referring to a legislative move that had only “restored some of the money that had been cut from higher education.”

Leary gave the session a grade of Incomplete because of the big issues it didn’t address. It didn’t deal, for example, with discontent over property taxes, fuel-oil and gasoline prices, or last year’s school-administration consolidation. Cummings admits — sounding not so self-congratulatory in a Phoenix interview — that the budget decisions were “grim,” though he and other legislative Democrats pat themselves on the back for preventing what they call the worst of the cuts Baldacci had proposed. (Republicans generally don’t regret spending cuts, and they admire Baldacci’s approach to state finances.)

To see how Democratic values are expressed precisely — in dollar figures — let’s look at the session’s major budget actions and then at how they affect broadly defined classes of people. The numbers in the accompanying tables are of changes made to the $6-billion General Fund — which pays most state expenses, and where the $190-million “hole” appeared — for the two-year budget period that ends June 30, 2009. The Legislature’s Office of Fiscal and Program Review crunched most of these numbers for the Phoenix, with details from the state budget office and several state departments.


For the most part, the Legislature filled the hole by shrinking last year’s appropriations for state programs. The "Spending Cuts" table has the breakdown. The final number on cuts was $118.1 million. But legislators also filled the budget hole with “gimmicks,” the name State House regulars have for shifting money around within the treasury and other creative accounting measures. Baldacci came up with the idea of using the state-employee reserves, and the Legislature substituted the other gimmicks for many cuts Baldacci wanted to make. See the "Fiscal 'Gimmicks'" table for the details; total gimmickry supplied $72.7 million.
Together, cuts and gimmicks totaled $190.8 million.


This year’s tax increases occurred not to remedy the shortfall, but to prop up the state’s ailing Dirigo Health Insurance program. A 1.8-percent tax on insurance-company-paid health-care claims, state analysts say, will bring in $33 million in just the first year. It replaces the yearly assessment on the companies for the money that Dirigo supposedly saved them, which they contested. A hike on soda, beer, and wine taxes will also be devoted to Dirigo; it theoretically will bring in $16.7 million in the first year. The last-minute introduction and passage of these taxes, with no public hearing, incensed some Republicans and business interests. They have begun a “people’s veto” referendum effort to block them.


The Legislature passed a big expansion of the historic preservation tax credit. This is actually a giveaway of up to $20 million per project; a developer refurbishing old buildings gets the money whether it owes income taxes or not. Several big developers, including Mattson, the company owned by Democratic wheels Kevin Mattson and Severin Beliveau, lobbied for it.
The legislation doesn’t have much effect on the current budget, but within a few years it could drain millions annually from the state bank account. Late in the session, legislators put a clause in the bill adding a financial incentive if developers include “affordable” units within their projects, but there’s no requirement they do so. (See “A ‘Good’ Tax Break in the Making,” by Lance Tapley, February 20, 2008.)


State government’s fuel and electricity costs are coming in at $10.2 million more than budgeted, so an appropriation covered that increase. Legislators approved borrowing $50 million for road repairs and $160 million for replacing and repairing bridges, the latter to be paid off by a $10 increase in vehicle-registration fees, which will bring in $16 million a year. Legislators rushed passage of this borrowing through the tail end of the session, without requiring the bills to undergo the usual two-thirds-of-each-house and public-referendum bond-approval process.

Who are affected most?


The Health and Human Services cuts total $64.3 million. Some of the most severe are in the "Some Big Cuts Affecting Poor People" chart, the numbers supplied by the department. Many other DHHS cuts are to jobs and administrative expenses in the department. The effect of many of the cuts will be tripled because the feds provide two-to-one matching dollars for a lot of programs that support low-income Mainers.

The poor pay a higher proportion of their income on food and drink than middle-class or rich people, so the Dirigo beverage-tax increase will hit them hardest.


Let’s put here the number $53.8 million — everything that was slashed besides the DHHS programs. Education cutbacks affect people across social classes, of course, but the middle class is the most numerously affected. Education Department cuts include a $43.5-million reduction in state aid to the schools, the University of Maine System took a $3.1-million hit, the community colleges had nearly $1 million sliced away, and Maine Maritime Academy lost $323,000.
The middle class also is the group hurt in the largest numbers by the $3.1 million in cuts affecting the rest of state government. These include, for example, a $240,000 cut at the overworked Land Use Regulation Commission, a $222,000 reduction at the State Planning Office, and a $223,000 subtraction from state library activities.

And, of course, the middle class, which collectively pays most of the local property taxes, will watch those taxes rise because in many towns and cities citizens will not accept slashing school budgets to reflect diminished state aid.



Well, some of the rich may encounter nuisances such as fewer open hours at the state library — if that comes to pass. But their resources can compensate more easily than in the case of the less-favored classes.

One could argue that the Legislature’s gimmick of delaying a corporate income-tax deduction — for operating losses carried forward year-to-year — will hurt some corporations, but they will be able to take the deduction in future years.

They wanted to give more to the rich Although Democrats did reduce Baldacci’s proposed human-services spending cuts, they are still huge and will be felt sharply since they affect very vulnerable people at a time when the federal government also is reducing social-service spending and the country is going into a recession. Things have been getting worse for the worst-off for some time. Maine Equal Justice Partners, which lobbies for the poor, quotes the US Census Bureau that poverty among Maine children increased from 10.4 percent in 2001 to 16.7 percent in 2007 — the sharpest climb in New England.

And the latest cuts come after years of state human-services reductions during Baldacci’s tenure and the Democrats’ control of the Legislature. The National Alliance for the Mentally Ill–Maine calculates that state mental-health programs, including the loss of matching federal dollars, were cut by $33 million in just the 2007 fiscal year.

Yet the Legislature this session ardently expressed its desire to give away more money to the very rich and to businesses. The House, with Democrats in a 90-59 majority over the Republicans (with two Independents), voted 83 to 57 (with 11 absences) to reduce the state estate tax — the tax paid by estates after (literally, only) millionaires die — to conform to the Bush-administration-promoted lower federal estate tax. The Senate, controlled 18 to 17 by the Democrats, voted 31 to 3 for this quintessentially Republican “tax reform” (Republicans call it the “death tax”). Only Portland-area Democratic Senators Ethan Strimling, Joseph Brannigan, and Beth Edmonds, the Senate president, voted against it (Senator Lynn Bromley, a Democrat of South Portland, was absent).

State House analysts calculated this reduction would cost the treasury a total of $55 million in the next three years, so despite the enthusiasm for the bill expressed in both houses the Appropriations Committee killed it in the last days of the session. The Legislature probably would have had to increase another tax to pay for it.

“Everyone would like to get to the point where these things could be done,” says Democratic Senator Margaret Rotundo of Auburn, the Appropriations chairwoman, on the subject of reducing the estate tax. “It would be something that would be nice to do.”

She is concerned that because of the state estate tax Maine is losing “very large numbers” of philanthropically inclined rich people — though she had no statistics to back up the claim.
Senate Majority Leader Libby Mitchell agrees, “It’s a nice idea, but we can’t afford that.”
By contrast, Senator Strimling, who is running for Congress in the 1st District Democratic primary, spoke forcefully on the Senate floor against the estate-tax reduction: “We just passed a budget a week ago in which we cut $200 million from many of the neediest, the poorest, the disabled, and the working families of this state. It would be completely fiscally and morally irresponsible to now give a tax break to those with over a million dollars.”

Strimling, Brannigan, Edmonds, and another Democratic senator, Bruce Bryant of Dixfield, also lost initially when the Senate passed, 29 to 4 (with 2 absent), a bill extending the state’s exemption on new business equipment from local property taxes to retail stores with less than 20,000 square feet. The House passed it 139 to 0 (with 12 absent). Analysts determined, however, that the bill would cost the state $4.2 million in the next two-year cycle, and it, too, was eventually killed by the Appropriations Committee before final Senate passage.
Why did Democrats go for this bill when huge cuts were being made to social services?
“Why not?” answers Democratic Representative Janet Mills of Farmington. “It helps small business. It’s an incentive.”

Whom do Maine Democrats value? At their May 30-June 1 state convention, Democrats will shout their support for presidential candidates Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. But the legislators there, who tend to be the cheerleaders, will be trumpeting a contradiction. The economic proposals of Senators Obama and Clinton — increasing taxes on the rich and reducing tax breaks for the corporations — make these candidates look like radicals compared to Augusta’s Democrats. As profoundly as Democrats in Washington bow to lobbyists representing corporate and personal wealth, state legislatures are famously more subservient, the Democratic majority in the Maine Legislature is no exception, and Baldacci has seldom found a big-business idea he doesn’t like.

“All over the country, businesses are really in control,” says Strimling. They are constantly demanding that legislators “sweeten the pot for them.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitchell says that when Democrats voted to reduce the estate tax they knew the Appropriations Committee would kill the bill. The vote was in part, she says, a strategy to deny Republicans an election-campaign attack point against Democrats.

But her comments reveal that she believes the correct stance for Democrats, the self-proclaimed party of the people, is to look like Republicans, whom Democrats say are the party of the rich and the corporations.

What values do Maine’s Democrats hold, at least at the State House? Republican values.

Lance Tapley can be reached at .

Copyright © 2007 The Phoenix Media/Communications Group

NEW LAW: "An Act To Create the Maine Council on Poverty and Economic Security"

PUBLIC Law, Chapter 641 SIGNED on 2008-04-17 - 123rd Legislature
- Get Text: MS-Word, RTF PDF LR 1499 Item 1

An Act To Create the Maine Council on Poverty and Economic Security

Be it enacted by the People of the State of Maine as follows:
Sec. 1. 5 MRSA §12004-I, sub-§6-H is enacted to read:

Economic Development

Maine Council on Poverty and Economic Security

Legislative per diem for appointed members plus expenses

5 MRSA §13171
Sec. 2. 5 MRSA c. 391 is enacted to read:

§ 13171. Maine Council on Poverty and Economic Security
The Maine Council on Poverty and Economic Security, as established in Title 5, section 12004-I, subsection 6-H and referred to in this section as "the council," advises the Governor and the Legislature on approaches that this State can successfully employ to end poverty and provide economic security to those who are poor or near poor in the State and benchmarks to measure the State's progress in reaching those goals. For purposes of this chapter, "poverty" means either having family income below the nonfarm income official poverty line or below the annual basic needs budget as adjusted to family size determined by the Department of Labor under Title 26, section 1405.

1. Membership; terms; meetings. The council consists of 21 appointed, voting members and 5 ex officio, nonvoting members.

A. Voting members of the council are as set out in this paragraph:

(1) Two members of the Senate, who may not be from the same political party, appointed by the President of the Senate;

(2) Four members of the House of Representatives, of whom no more than 2 may be members of the same political party, appointed by the Speaker of the House of Representatives;

(3) One member of the nonprofit community serving individuals living in or near poverty, appointed by the Governor based on recommendations of statewide organizations serving low-income persons;

(4) One member representing faith-based organizations, appointed by the Governor based on recommendations of statewide faith-based organizations;

(5) Two individuals living in or near poverty, one of whom has had experience with homelessness, appointed by the Governor based on recommendations of statewide poverty advocacy organizations;

(6) One representative of an advocacy organization specializing in public policy related to poverty, appointed by the Governor based on recommendations of statewide advocacy organizations;

(7) One person who has experienced poverty who is disabled, appointed by the Governor based on the recommendations of statewide disability organizations;

(8) One representative of children living in or near poverty, appointed by the Governor based on the recommendations of statewide children's advocacy organizations;

(9) Two members representing the business community, appointed by the Governor based on the recommendations of statewide business organizations;

(10) One person who has experienced poverty who is a woman, appointed by the Governor based on the recommendations of statewide women's organizations with expertise in issues related to poverty;

(11) One representative of a statewide organization with expertise in economic policy analysis relating to challenges faced by low-income persons, appointed by the Governor based on the recommendations of statewide organizations with expertise in issues related to poverty;

(12) Two representatives of economic development organizations, appointed by the Governor based on the recommendations of economic development organizations;

(13) One person who has experienced poverty who is elderly, appointed by the Governor based on the recommendations of statewide organizations representing or serving elderly individuals; and

(14) One representative of Native Americans, appointed by the Governor based on the recommendations of the Aroostook Band of Micmacs, the Houlton Band of Maliseet Indians, the Passamaquoddy Tribe and the Penobscot Nation.

B. The following individuals, or their designees, shall serve on the council as ex officio, nonvoting members: the Director of the State Planning Office within the Executive Department; the Commissioner of Health and Human Services; the Commissioner of Labor; the Commissioner of Education; and the Director of the Maine State Housing Authority.

C. Members of the council must have experience with issues of poverty and economic insecurity and represent the geographic diversity of the State.

D. Members of the council serve for a term of 3 years except that initial appointments must be for 1, 2 and 3 years in order to provide for staggered terms. At the end of a term an outgoing member serves until a successor has been appointed. A member may not serve more than 2 consecutive terms.

E. The members of the council shall elect a chair from among their members by majority vote at the first meeting of the council. The chair serves for the duration of that member's term unless a majority of the membership elects another chair. At the end of the chair's term as member, the membership shall elect a new chair by majority vote.

2. Duties of council. The council shall:

A. Identify the number of those living at or near the poverty level in the State, and among certain subpopulations, including children, households headed by single females, the elderly, racial minorities and people with disabilities;

B. Identify the risk factors and underlying causes of poverty through consultation with experts, service providers and individuals living in or near poverty and review research literature to identify the best practices for prevention and reduction of poverty;

C. Examine the long-term effects of poverty on individuals, their families and their communities, including the costs of poverty to municipalities, the State and the State's economy;

D. Examine programs that are targeted to assist people living in poverty or near poverty and identify any inadequacies or gaps in such programs;

E. Recommend public policy strategies and procedures for the elimination of poverty in the State;

F. Establish measurable benchmarks for the elimination of poverty in the State by setting percentage reductions in the number of people living in or near poverty in the next 5, 10 and 20 years; and

G. Establish procedures for the operation of the council.

3. Staff assistance. The Department of Health and Human Services shall provide necessary staffing services to the council.

4. Compensation. Legislative members of the council are entitled to receive the legislative per diem described in Title 3, section 2 and reimbursement for travel and other necessary expenses related to their attendance at authorized meetings of the council. Public members not otherwise compensated by their employers or other entities that they represent are entitled, to the extent that funds are available, to receive reimbursement of necessary expenses and, upon a demonstration of financial hardship, a per diem equal to the legislative per diem for their attendance at authorized meetings of the council.

5. Outside funding. The council may not accept General Fund funding but may seek outside funding to cover costs of the council.

6. Report. The council shall report to the Governor and the Legislature by February 15th annually on the State's progress in reducing the number of people living in or near poverty and with recommendations, including legislative recommendations, for ensuring that the goal of ending poverty is reached in a timely and effective manner consistent with benchmarks established by the council.

Sec. 3. Appropriations and allocations. The following appropriations and allocations are made.


Legislature 0081

Initiative: Allocates funds for per diem and expenses for legislative members who will serve as members of the Maine Council on Poverty and Economic Security.

Effective 90 days following adjournment of the 123rd Legislature, First Special Session, unless otherwise indicated.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Income gap still growing in Maine (PPH-040908)

Income gap still growing in Maine
The chasm between rich and poor is widening, with the top 20 percent slowly pulling away.

From staff reports April 9, 2008

The income gap between the wealthiest Mainers and the poorest is continuing to grow, but the national rate of income inequality remains higher, according to an analysis released early today.

Maine is one of 37 states where incomes for the bottom 20 percent of families are growing more slowly than incomes for the top 20 percent, according to "Pulling Apart, a State-by-State Analysis of Income Inequality."

The analysis was a joint research project of the Economic Policy Institute and the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

The report states that Maine's richest families -- the upper fifth -- had incomes that were 6.3 times as large as the poorest fifth. In the late 1980s, that figure was 5.4.

The gap between rich and middle-income families also is widening, according to the report. Incomes for the state's richest 20 percent were 2.3 times the incomes for the middle 20 percent, slightly up from a figure of 2.1 in the late 1980s.

Overall, from the late 1980s to the mid-2000s, the income for the top 20 percent of Maine families grew by 29.5 percent, compared to 16.3 percent for the middle 20 percent and 11.4 percent for the bottom 20 percent.

The gap between Maine's richest and poorest families is the 33rd largest among the states, according to the report. The worst income inequality is in New York, Alabama, Mississippi, Massachusetts and Tennessee.

The report noted that the U.S. Census data that was used was adjusted for inflation but does not include capital gains income, which means it probably underestimates the growth in incomes among wealthier families.

Copyright © 2008 Blethen Maine Newspapers