The vetoes that weren’t

Say what you want about Paul LePage, the man is doing exactly what he told you he was going to do when he was running for office. You may not like what he does, but in an age where all too often silver-tongue, polished, over-consulted, wishy-washy, power-hungry politicians say one thing and then do another once elected, it is at least refreshing to know what to expect from the person in charge.

LePage’s modus operandi has always been to do things differently than they have been done before. That personality trait is a big part of his appeal to those who support him, for sure. One thing he did differently last week was to use a tool that previous governors have had at their disposal but have neglected to use: the line-item veto.

The line-item veto is something that has never been used in Maine. I find this more than a little curious, because typically when an executive is given the power to do something, he or she will find a way to use that power to most effectively pursue their agenda.

More curious, though, is the fact that the people of Maine very obviously wanted their governor to have and use this power. When the referendum was put in front of the voters in 1995, 71 percent of them voted to institute the line-item veto.

It is easy to see why. The money spent by the government is your money and my money. Oliver Wendell Holmes once said, “Taxes are the price we pay for a civilized society,” and he was, of course, right.

But Maine voters have always been cognizant of the fact that price is paid with the blood, sweat and tears of hard work — on fishing boats, in the woods or in an office — and that every penny the government takes should be spent wisely. Doing anything else is disrespect to the labor and creativity of the people that money was confiscated from.

Augusta has always viewed tax money as a plaything and has done a magnificent job wasting it over the years. Tax dollars are spent on things that have no business having tax dollars spent on, resources are allocated inefficiently and to the wrong places, government programs are antiquated and do not effectively accomplish their goals and year after year budgets (and taxes) go up to feed the unquenched thirst of the government to grow and spend more.

In 1995, the people of Maine spoke loudly, and said they wanted their governor to judiciously review what our government spent money on and have the authority to reject what he or she saw as wasteful spending.

The fact that no one has used that power to this point is, frankly, astounding. Failing to use tools you are given to govern is negligent, although hardly surprising given the fact that the two previous governors who had the chance to use it were big spenders: Angus King and John Baldacci.

It seems that when you like spending money recklessly and you have allies in the legislature who like spending money recklessly, cutting out the fat with a scalpel probably seems pointless. Neither King nor Baldacci wanted to rock the boat or be painted as the bad guy, so punting the spending down the field and raising taxes became standard operating procedure in Augusta.

Maine’s governor is, compared to executives in other states, a rather powerful office. Whoever sits in that office in the Blaine House has a responsibility to use all the tools at their disposal to make sure Maine’s precious tax dollars are spent wisely, and effectively. The line-item veto is one of those tools, and it should be used.

Governor LePage took out his pen last Saturday and did something that no governor in Maine had done before. Perhaps had previous governors done their job and used the authority the Maine people asked them to use, kept spending and taxes in check and managed the state more effectively, LePage’s veto might never have been necessary.

Matthew Gagnon

About Matthew Gagnon

Matthew Gagnon, of Yarmouth, is the Chief Executive Officer of the Maine Heritage Policy Center, a free market policy think tank based in Portland. Prior to Maine Heritage, he served as a senior strategist for the Republican Governors Association in Washington, D.C. Originally from Hampden, he has been involved with Maine politics for more than a decade.