The budget alternative

For two weeks now, we have been told by Democrats, talking heads and the editorial pages of newspapers that the budget compromise crafted in the Legislature was imperfect but better than the original LePage budget and that the governor had no reasonable option other than to sign the hastily thrown together bill.

It is rather remarkable to watch the entirety of the leftist echo chamber spring into action, in an attempt to bully the governor into signing a budget that was so critically flawed because it was supposedly “the only option.”

LePage, rightly, would not be baited into doing so. He has taken the requisite time to review the bill and says he intends to veto it. Good for him. Compromise simply for the sake of compromise, while running at full speed away from an opportunity to make transformative change to state government, is neither a brave nor moral thing to do.

State government is broken. Maine’s budget is broken. It is suffocated by structural problems, and taking the quick and easy way out by raising taxes rather than confronting that truth does nothing to help. It simply punts the ball down the field, hoping to avoid hard decisions until somebody else has to make them in the future.

This is exactly why Maine is in this predicament, because this has been the chosen solution of state government for decades. No real change. No real reform. Small, gimmicky Band-Aid fixes that hide the problem and cause the problem to be worse in the future.

For whatever the left wants to say about LePage’s election in 2010, his rise to the Blaine House was in large part due to years of frustration with this type of government. Maine is full of deeply frugal, responsible people with a solid work ethic and common sense approach to life.

Maine citizens of all political persuasions have known for a long time that state government spends too much on things they have no business spending money on. They know that the big ticket, critical functions of government like education and infrastructure are suffering because of the other priorities state government never should have focused on.

LePage promised to fix that, and he is obviously serious. That was apparent with his original budget, and it is apparent with his promise to veto this compromise bill.

He took a never-ending onslaught of criticism over his budget, and indeed, much of that budget was painful and hard. Yet the real point is that four decades of cowardly decision making by state legislatures and governors alike is what really made a budget proposal like his necessary in the first place.

If anyone is all that offended at LePage’s original budget, their outrage should more appropriately be directed at the decades of leaders in both parties that made it necessary in the first place.  Certainly not the person trying to fix what they did.

The compromise budget is just more of the same, and it deserves to be scrapped. Yet no one wants to see a shutdown of state government.

Enter the alternative: LePage on Thursday proposed that after he vetoes the legislation, the Legislature should pass a 60-day continuing resolution, which would avoid a shutdown on July 1 and keep state workers employed and working while lawmakers work on a new budget he can accept.

This would be a third way, between accepting a terrible compromise budget and shutting down the government, and it would allow Republicans to feel comfortable upholding the governor’s veto — as a viable alternative would be on the table to produce something better.

This is a reasonable idea that would allow a better bill to be crafted that didn’t raise taxes and takes seriously the need for real government reform.

With this new proposal, the ball is now in the hands of the Democrats. If they reject the governor’s idea — and there is quite literally no reason they should, outside of politics — then any subsequent government shutdown would be their responsibility.

Let’s see how serious they are about their responsibility to the people of Maine.

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.