Sara Gideon’s Legacy: Spending and tax increases, expanding welfare, death services

Speaker Sara Gideon (D – Freeport) speaks at a Planned Parenthood rally.

AUGUSTA – A review of Speaker Sara Gideon’s tenure at the helm of Maine’s lower legislative chamber show a leader dedicated to increasing spending, raising taxes, expanding or allowing controversial services, and enacting laws that are likely unpopular outside of the liberal enclaves of southern Maine.

Sara Gideon ascended to Speaker of the Maine House of Representatives in 2016 after the previous Speaker, Mark Eves was termed out of his seat. She had risen to a seat in the Maine House from a spot on the Freeport Town Council, where she served after moving to Freeport from New York.

Initially, as many politicians do, Gideon sought to publicly frame her objective as Speaker to be one of bipartisan leadership. In reality, her time at the helm of the Maine House has been one of intense partisanship, with her caucus opposing tax relief and demanding increased spending that drove the state budget to record levels and resulted, at one point, in a state government shutdown.

While Speaker Gideon does not have an exhaustive list of legislative achievements, her fingerprints are all over the two-year state budgets that have passed since 2016. Known for negotiating behind closed doors to come to final agreements on those budgets, Gideon has leveraged whatever power she had available during state budget negotiations to oversee a massive overall spending increase.

As the only member of current leadership to have a significant role in every budget going back to the start of her term as Speaker, she has overseen a nearly 20% increase spending from Maine’s budget battles during her time in charge of the Maine House.

Those budget battles included a state shutdown, controversial parliamentary maneuvers and the threat of tax increases to spur state spending even higher, even when there was little appetite in the Governor’s office or the Maine Senate for such spending.

Not content to use her power to just implement spending increases whenever the opportunity arose, Speaker Gideon has also aggressively pursued a liberal social agenda that is anathema to people across broad swaths of rural Maine.

Just this year, Gideon sponsored legislation to deregulate abortions. Serving as the prime sponsor of a bill pushed by Janet Mills to repeal the law that mandated only doctors could perform abortion procedures, among other services, she successfully shepherded the law through the legislature and to Governor Mills’ desk for her signature.

READ MORE: Safe? Maine bill would legalize abortions without doctors

The law, which Gideon and Mills initially sold to the public as only allowing for non-physicians to provide medicine to terminate pregnancies, actually made Maine only the second state in the nation, following California, to allow non-physicians to perform in-clinic abortions.

In her testimony to the Legislature’s Health Coverage, Insurance and Financial Services Committee on May 1, 2019, Speaker Gideon said that Maine’s physician-only abortion law was “outdated” and that repealing it was “the right thing to do.”

In addition to the aforementioned law deregulating abortions, Gideon also managed to push through an elaborate law that imposed a mandate that all private health insurance plans sold in Maine cover abortion procedures, and then within the same law, used the new mandate to justify providing taxpayer funded abortions in the interest of equality.

But services that expanded abortions were not the only hot button issues dealing with death that Gideon would help expand. A supporter of previous efforts to expand physician assisted suicide in Maine, in the most recent legislative session, Gideon was able to muster the votes to push the latest “Death With Dignity” proposal through the House and to Gov. Janet Mills’ desk. With Mills’ signature, Maine became the ninth state to have a law on the books legalizing the practice of doctors assisting patients with ending their lives.

Financially, Gideon has not been shy about pushing to raise taxes on Mainers and those tax increases have not solely targeted “wealthy” Mainers as some liberal politicians are fond of doing.

In the most recent legislative session, Speaker Gideon cosponsored a proposal to add a tax to heating oil and gasoline that would have imposed a tax of about 40 cents per gallon when fully implemented. That proposal was shelved after a massive public outcry that Maine’s elderly and working-class residents would not be able to afford to heat their homes or travel to work in Maine’s frigid winters.

READ MORE: Maine would see 40 cent per gallon increase in gas & heating oil with carbon tax

In her marquee proposal of the legislative session, Gideon proposed a tax increase on the paychecks of virtually all Maine workers to cover a paid leave plan that other New England states were working to create without any tax increases.

That proposal ran into problems starting with the bill’s public hearing before the Legislature’s Labor and Housing Committee when Speaker Gideon testified and requested that the committee increase the tax increase she had initially proposed, saying that the initial increase she had been promoting might not be enough to cover the costs.

Ultimately, Gideon’s proposal would result in a 10% to 14% increase in the income tax working Mainers pay. Stalled since the public hearing, the bill has been carried over for potential passage in the next session of the Maine Legislature.

Gideon also supported a proposal by self-described socialist Rep. Michael Sylvester (D – Portland) to allow Maine’s more than 400 municipalities to impose a local option sales tax. That bill passed the Maine House of Representatives but failed passage in the Maine Senate.

A strong ally of Gideon’s, she has rewarded Rep. Sylvester, known for his Twitter handle @SocialistSylvester, by appointing him to Chair the Legislature’s powerful Labor and Housing Committee and then on May 14th, to the State Workforce Board.

READ MORE: Maine House Speaker Sara Gideon sponsoring nearly $750 million in new debt, would triple current debt level

Not shy only on the taxation side of the ledger, Speaker Gideon also kicked off the most recent legislative session proposing nearly $750 million in new debt through bond proposals. That total, had all the proposals been approved, would have nearly tripled Maine’s general obligation bond debt and cost taxpayers about $200 million in interest over the life of the bonds.

Gideon has also supported rolling back many of the welfare reforms passed during the LePage era of welfare reforms, including her recent vote to expand state taxpayer-funded welfare benefits to non-citizens who have not yet even filed applications for asylum in the United States.

READ MORE: Democrats hide costs, approve Maine welfare for non-citizens bill allowing DHHS to take from other programs

That bill, like many others, has been carried over to a future session of the Maine Legislature.

Unlike the current crop of bills whose fate has yet to be determined, Speaker Sara Gideon’s legacy is that of a liberal who supports large spending and tax increases, and her support of an array of envelope-pushing social issues have left an indelible mark on Maine’s state finances and moral fabric.

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