"Maine Budget Cuts Have Public Workers Dining On Roadkill"
CREDIT: AP/Robert F. Bukaty
A job in public safety and law enforcement ought to be enough to feed a family, but after budget cuts and pay freezes, one trooper with the Maine State Police has resorted to scooping up roadkill to keep his children fed.
“I am a hunter because the meat I hunt is necessary to feed my family. I do not hesitate to collect a deer carcass from the roadway,” Trooper Jon Brown told a state legislative panel on Tuesday. “This is necessary to provide for my family.” Brown, a military veteran, has six children and earns about $37,000 before taxes in 2012, the Bangor Daily News reports.
Brown and fellow trooper Elgin Physic were testifying in support of legislation that would restore funding for merit- and longevity-based pay raises for the state troopers, whose pay was frozen in 2013 along with the rest of Maine’s state employees. Despite warnings from the state’s finance chief that the pay freezes would harm state services by discouraging veteran workers from continuing to serve the public, both the Maine legislature and Gov. Paul LePage (R) pushed for the pay freeze.
The bill that drew state troopers to the capitol Tuesday would cost $6 million and give many state workers their first raise in several years. Maine currently faces a roughly $89 million budget shortfall over the coming two-year fiscal window.
“When I was recruited, I was not promised that the budget would be balanced on my back,” Brown told legislators Tuesday.
But Maine has relied primarily on backs like Brown’s during the past few years of budgetary scrambling. Schoolchildren are getting less money than they did five years ago thanks to major cuts imposed in 2010. The state has slashed revenue sharing with municipalities, forcing a combination of service cuts and property tax increases on the local level. A budget compromise struck last summer featured multiple regressive tax increases to the sales tax and lodging-and-meals tax rates.
At the same time, lawmakers have refused to reverse an income tax cut for the richest residents that LePage won in 2011.
Despite tight budgets and his push to freeze state worker pay and take funding away from local services, LePage did make it a point to expand one specific piece of Maine’s public sector. The governor added eight fraud inspectors to the state’s welfare administration staff at a cost of $700,000 per year. The revamped welfare fraud unit referred just 45 fraud cases to law enforcement. LePage’s obsession with baseless allegations of widespread welfare abuse has proven immune even to his own facts, as a report he commissioned late last year found that less than one percent of all transactions involving Maine public benefit cards took place at bars, sports bars, and strip clubs.