In Maine, we love our pie. Generations of Mainers have been comforted and soothed by pie of every sort — blueberry pie, pork pie, graham cracker pie, and of course, the whoopie pie. No matter how bad things get, Mainers know there will always be pie.
However, in AARP’s view, Question 4 (TABOR II) poses a clear and present threat to Maine’s budgetary pie. On many counts, the proposal in Question 4 comes up short as sound public policy that serves seniors — and just about everyone else, for that matter. TABOR II seeks to place rigid limits on local revenues and spending with a formula based on rates of inflation and general population growth. Each year, the formula would set an inflexible maximum expenditure level against which all state and local priorities must compete for funding.
The problem is that the formula is divorced from real-time. It does not account for the costs of health care and other services that are increasing faster than the rate of inflation, nor does it account for expansion in existing programs prompted by demographic shifts or economic conditions. And this is precisely where we are in Maine right now.
Between 2000 and 2030, Maine’s population of those over 65 is projected to more than double. Undoubtedly, this will mean a rise in the costs of maintaining current levels of health care and other services for a larger number of seniors. TABOR II, though, is structured so that no consideration is given to a program’s growth characteristics or expenditure patterns.
What, then, does TABOR II mean for seniors? Well, it is a safe bet that it would hit them hard. Maine’s growing senior population relies on adequately funded nursing homes, in-home care, meal delivery and other crucial services. But TABOR II would slowly starve these programs and create hardships for those who rely on them.
The same goes for other budget priorities such as libraries, schools, public safety, pothole repair — pretty much the gamut of public services. They will all bump up against an imposed spending cap; they will all be pitted against one another; and they will all be left with crumbs of the pie.
If Question 4 passes, it would mark an erosion of much that we hold dear in Maine — namely, our town meeting form of governance and our tradition of local control. And it would undercut the vital and often entrepreneurial exchange residents have with their elected officials — their representatives, their councilors, their school board delegates. By insisting on an arbitrary one-size-fits-all formula for local budgeting that does not distinguish among municipalities with starkly different needs, the input of thoughtful residents would be sidelined.
Mainers rejected rigid tax cap proposals in 2004 and again in 2006. In the middle of the worst economic crisis we have seen in decades, a TABOR proposal makes even less sense today than the previous times Maine voters rejected it. Question 4’s rigid and arbitrary formula will lock in current cutbacks for years to come. It will also make it even harder to dig out of the current recession and create the jobs that Maine needs.
In Maine, we prefer pie that we can slice according to our appetites, and not one that is pre-sliced for us. Make sure this tradition continues: Vote no on Question 4.
Nelson Megna is the state president of the AARP.