Christy Daggett, Maine Center for Economic Policy
Originally published in the Portland Press Herald on April 30, 2014
State legislators have voted four times to accept federal health care dollars and cover Maine’s uninsured citizens. Four times, the governor has vetoed the majority’s will.
The most recent bill is based on “private option” plans in New Hampshire and Arkansas, under which states use federal Medicaid expansion funds to purchase private coverage for uninsured citizens in the Maine insurance marketplace.
In the first six months of Arkansas’ plan, 70 percent of eligible Arkansans signed up for coverage. Our governor has promised to veto Maine’s “private option” bill. This time, will our legislators choose to override the governor’s veto, or let it stand in a long line of missed opportunities for Mainers?
The governor’s contempt for the Affordable Care Act and the president so far has cost Maine more than $110 million in federal funds that the state can never reclaim. These are funds to support 4,400 jobs – roughly equivalent to the number L.L. Bean employs – and generate more than half a billion dollars in economic activity annually by 2016. Many of these jobs would accrue to the poorest, most rural regions of the state.
This fits a political pattern that is impoverishing Maine today, and putting us at a disadvantage for the future.
The governor recently vetoed a bill to provide solar energy rebates that would have created 1,250 jobs and attracted an estimated $25 million in private investment. While Maine loses its edge in manufacturing, China and Brazil are taking the lead on solar panel development. Last year, the governor’s hostility to Statoil’s ambitious $120 million offshore wind project caused the company to move the project to Scotland.
This spring, the governor refused to issue $33 million in voter-approved bonds, even as Maine’s brief construction season is ramping up and the American Society of Civil Engineers rates more than half of our roads as poor or inadequate. In the meantime, the unemployment rate in Maine’s construction sector is particularly high.
Maine wants to be more business-friendly. Yet the governor blocks progress toward much-needed infrastructure and energy improvements, and a healthier workforce that would help Maine businesses.
While the Maine media have reported that reputable experts have discredited the data cited in the administration-commissioned Alexander Report, independent projections from both ends of the political spectrum have found that Maine would save money if our leaders expanded Medicaid. The conservative Heritage Foundation cited estimates that showed Maine would save $690 million by accepting federal health care funds to cover the uninsured.
Compare this to the $457 million Maine spent in 2012 on “Pine Tree Zones” for private businesses – including tax breaks that cost more than they delivered in jobs, according to a report commissioned by the Maine Department of Economic and Community Development.
Republican governors in 10 states, including New Jersey, Ohio and Michigan, have led efforts to accept Affordable Care Act funds. Many have linked their support for expanding Medicaid to protecting their states’ economic competitiveness.
Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer issued an analysis that forcefully made the case: “Having nearly 1 in 5 Arizonans without health insurance is bad for business.” The analysis also found that accepting federal funds will “keep Arizona economically competitive and prevent a wealth shift to our neighbors – California, Nevada, Colorado, and New Mexico – that are pursuing expansion.”
Maine is the only New England state that continues to reject federal funds, and our competitors in Quebec and New Brunswick enjoy the edge that nation’s health care system affords.
Maine families have suffered badly over the past decade. As the statistics show, Maine continues to lag behind most of the nation in our recovery from the Great Recession. We’ve recovered only 54 percent of the jobs lost in the recession and consistently rank near the bottom among the states in job creation. Wages have stagnated and food and energy costs have risen.
Maine once ranked 11th nationally when it came to keeping working people out of poverty. Now, 30 percent of Maine workers cannot meet basic needs to support their families.
Accepting federal health care funds will offer coverage to almost 70,000 uninsured – many working in low-wage jobs without benefits. It will create thousands of new jobs across the state, fuel economic growth and help us to compete with other states and internationally.
Instead of vetoing Maine’s future, we badly need constructive leadership to overcome the challenges that stand in the path to prosperity for generations to come. Maine’s working families deserve better.
Christy Daggett is a policy analyst for the Maine Center for Economic Policy, and a member of the Maine Regional Network, part of the Scholars Strategy Network, which brings together scholars across the country to address public challenges and their policy implications.