Lawmakers in Maine are considering imposing a new sales tax on big box stores, like Wal-Mart, which they say cost state taxpayers money when their employees sign up for subsidized public health plans like Medicaid. The Maine legislators want to create a 3% sales tax to compensate the state for the corporate welfare that Wal-Mart uses. “It is well documented that in some Wal-Mart stores, when you apply for a job you also receive an application for public assistance and Medicaid,” said Rep. Arthur Lerman, D-Augusta, lead sponsor of the legislation that would impose the new tax on gross sales at big-box stores. “Wal-Mart is the symbol of what is wrong about ‘big boxes’. And, unfortunately, due to their success, they are setting the norm for all large retailers,” Lerman said, in terms of low wages and poor or non-existent health care and other benefits. Lerman was joined by 26 other lawmakers in sponsoring the bill, which had its first hearing this week. The bill is projected to raise between $60 million and $90 million a year, according to Lerman. Two-thirds of the tax collected would go to a fund to provide insurance to individuals and their families who work at big-box stores. The rest would be used to support small business development. The legislation would apply to any store 60,000 square feet or more which is located outside of a downtown. Wal-Mart and Home Depot would be primarily affected. Lerman plans to exempt supermarkets and certain Maine-owned stores. The state already has a health insurance fund, called the Dirigo Health Care fund, which was created to help small businesses provide affordable health insurance to their workers.
The issue of Wal-Mart employees and dependents being major users of public health plans has become a hot button concern across the country. For earlier studies showing Wal-Mart as a major user of such health plans as Medicaid, search Newsflash by “health care” or “Medicaid.” Expect more states to at least propose laws to make companies using the health care dole pay back taxpayers. Most recently, Maryland passed a new law requiring large companies to pay the state if their health care expenses fall below a certain level of their total payroll costs. See “Maryland” for that story.