Letter to the editor from Representative Jim AnnisJanuary 11, 2008 - TRCTo The Editor;No one in the Maine Legislature is looking forward to the upcoming Legislative session. Currently, the biennial budget passed last spring is already $95 million in the hole and growing every day. Tobacco revenues are down, sales taxes are down, business tax revenues are down, personal income taxes are down and the list goes on.Some state departments are complaining bitterly that they are already cut to the bone and any further cuts will affect programs. As a former school board member and chair of a 6,000 student system, we used to use the cry that we’ll just have to cut art, music and sports in order to make the mandated school budget work ! Hopefully, it would shake up the powers in charge of funding and they would concede to our demands. Never worked then and I don’t think it’s going to work in the case of the state budget regarding programs.During my 12-year tenure on that school board, I was selected to be finance chairman. A position no one envied ! Many budget line items that could be reduced, without a severe consequence to public education, included health insurance and salaries. These two items were a start. Unfortunately, salaries were negotiable with the union as was health insurance. However, layoffs, or downsizing, weren’t negotiable. And sometimes we had to resort to those actions. After all, 75% to 80% of any budget consists of personnel salaries and benefits. The University of Maine System has threatened that tuition rates will have to be increased by 12% unless the Legislature accedes to their demands of a budget increase. And, get this; a University line item called “sabbaticals” has a $7 million funding ! And that’s just one bloated line item !During our recent discussions in a House caucus no one brought up the subject of salaries or health insurance. I don’t think the people of Maine realize that the State employs 14,239 people and this doesn’t include higher education. And one fellow Legislator informed me that I really didn’t have the full employment scope – it’s much larger than that ! Nobody in the caucus suggested layoffs within the state as a way of reducing the budget! To fund one state employee, it requires the support of 18 taxpayers ! The average state employee earns $46,000 a year and an additional $23,000 for benefits ! And, only recently, Anthem has included visits to the Wellness Center for employees and their spouses/domestic partners as a bonus ! Let’s go exercise folks !Programs within the Maine State Government system are usually headed up by a supervisor overseeing a group of subordinates. In some cases, these programs are staffed by a group of three or four people. Kind of expensive, isn’t it ? Is it time for a State supervisory “reorganization ” ? You can bet your life ! Oh, I’m sure there will be a hue and cry over this suggestion. We don’t need to cut programs – we need to cut overhead such as supervisors, managers, directors and others. Perhaps it’s time to put down the coffee cup, volunteer for more work, if only to support the poor financial state of the people of Maine. Businesses have shown us that they can’t survive in this state and are leaving in droves. And with job opportunities gone, workers are leaving too. Sounds like to me that our tax base is looking to reach zero !The health insurance plan for state employees is preposterous. I know, I have that plan as a “state employee.” And I contribute nothing toward that plan ! And our prescription plan is the best the taxpayer can afford! Why can’t state employees contribute to their health insurance program ? Taxpayers in the private sector generally contribute 20% to 30% of their pay toward health care premiums. Wouldn’t state employee contributions help dearly toward reducing the burden on the taxpayers ? Or is the taxpayer of little consequence ? When I was employed at Pratt & Whitney I was contributing to my health insurance plan long before I retired in 1992. A “product” sold to airlines funded our health insurance plan. It wasn’t funded on the backs of the taxpayer.Until the majority of the Legislature wakes up to the fact that the people of Maine can’t afford their ambitious and extravagant activities anymore, it will only get worse until the State of Maine is in bankruptcy and there are no more people to tax.Sincerely,Rep. Jim Annis District 26 Dover-FoxcroftNOTE - This article reflects the views of the author and not necessarily those of the TRC Alliance Team.