All Maine Matters

April 2006



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Designed by Laisha

Safety Net or Golden Parachute?
Senator Lois Snowe-Mello

Fifty-four thousand dollars. After taxes. Clear. Yours. All of it. If I told you that this would be your take-home pay after one year of earning the minimum wage, you wouldn’t believe me.

When Representative Brian Duprey and I began shedding light on the depth and scope of the benefits available to a single mother of two earning the minimum wage, many people did not believe it. The numbers we used came directly from Maine Partners for Equal Justice, and were verified by Department of Health and Human Services.

If the current spokesperson for DHHS, Lynn Kippax, former press secretary for the governor, elects to refute the department’s own numbers during an election year, that is his business. If we cannot trust the numbers that emanate from this administration, then whose numbers can we trust?

But it gets worse. The other day a woman I know from Durham approached me. She was very distraught, she said, because some close friends of hers who had just returned to Maine to live and were looking for work. These friends had asked her and her husband to help them find jobs, which naturally they were happy to do.

A few days later this lady received another call from her friend. She called to tell them to stop looking. She asked excitedly if her friends had found jobs. The reply was, “No, we are now receiving state help with food stamps and welfare. We’re even getting free health insurance through the state!” She went on, “We’re going to be all set and plan to take our time looking for work.”

I find that story discouraging. These are healthy, capable people who have been convinced by the state to take the easy route. This is only one example. Another woman related to me what she was told when she went to the state for help. “Take the welfare,” she was advised. “If you get a job, you can always lose it. But when you get welfare, it can never be taken away.”

I was taught by my parents to work for each dollar and to be proud of it. I believe that people are losing their pride and allowing the state to pay their way. The work ethic that gained Maine its once-legendary reputation as a place where rugged individualism held sway is rapidly being replaced with a soft, socialistic lifestyle more dependent on handouts than hard work.
Don’t get me wrong. I believe the state must help folks who absolutely cannot take care of themselves. What is wrong is where this state has chosen to go. We are the most highly taxed state in the country. The majority party has, for the past 34 years in the legislature, set policies that have made Maine the worst place to do business. This is a fact. We are perennially among the states with the highest health insurance costs, the highest unemployment insurance costs, the highest percentage of our population on Medicaid and welfare, and we have always had one of the highest minimum wages in the nation. We’re now the oldest state in the country, to boot.

The talk about the need for an increase in the minimum wage, and the growing discussion around the need to create a “livable wage,” misses the point entirely. The free market system creates wages that are commensurate with supply and demand of jobs and employees. With few employers left in the state, we could set the minimum wage at $50 per hour, and it still would not be enough. Companies would not pay it. They would leave the state, and we would end up with the situation we have today – the highest percent of residents living on the dole in our state’s history.

Companies simply pass wage increases to the consumer by raising the cost of their product. Groceries will be more expensive. The price of a meal at a restaurant will increase. Everything the consumer buys will go up. Who’s the consumer? Among others, the same individuals who just received the minimum wage increase! A minimum wage hike is eaten up by the increase in the cost of goods that same raise created. Why Democrats can’t understand this basic principle of economics boggles the mind.

I want people to have a good education that leads to a good paying job, and the opportunity to live a good life. But nothing is free. It seems to me that we are taking the safety net that is critical to people who are truly in need, and we are tailoring it into a golden parachute. We are being taken advantage of and played for suckers by the thousands and thousands of people who don’t mind living off of the government. Little wonder our taxes are killing us.

I believe that the policies set in place by more than 30 years of Democrat rule in Augusta are no longer working. It is time to rein in state spending and foster the culture of self-sufficiency that Maine’s reputation was built upon. Maine is at the critical tipping point – we can act now to salvage the work ethic that once made this a great place for industry to settle, or we can continue to foster a culture of dependence.

Our votes in November will determine which way Maine moves.

Senator Lois Snowe-Mello represents District 15, including the communities of Auburn, New Gloucester, Durham, and her hometown of Poland. Currently serving her freshman term in the Senate, Lois was a member of the House of Representatives in the 118th, 119th, 120th and 121st Legislative Sessions. Senator Snowe-Mello prides herself on her reputation as being both pro-business and pro-environment as a current member of both the Labor and Natural Resources Committees. She is up for re-election, and intends to campaign tirelessly for the privilege to serve again. Senator Snowe-Mello can be reached at (207)784-9136 or at

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