Dems: State spending has decreased contrary to GOP ad’s claim

Posted Oct. 16, 2010, at 6:01 p.m.

BELFAST, Maine — Democratic leaders are defending their party’s financial record in the face of what they say are false Republican campaign claims suggesting that state spending is increasing.

In his weekly radio address, Gov. John Baldacci called assertions that spending continues to grow recklessly in Maine “a myth.” Also Saturday, the campaign of Democratic gubernatorial candidate Libby Mitchell called statements on government spending in a new GOP ad “false and misleading.”

But Republicans insist that Democrats are not telling the whole story about how they balanced the budget and have created an atmosphere harmful to businesses.

“During the eight years of the Baldacci administration, the governor and the majority have raised countless taxes and fees,” Sen. David Trahan, R-Waldoboro, said in the GOP’s weekly radio address.

The exchanges come as both parties gear up for what is expected to be a feisty, two-week push to Election Day.

Mitchell and Republican Paul LePage are close in the polls, with LePage considered the front-runner. The Maine GOP is hoping to ride the national anti-incumbent fever to big gains in the Legislature, where Democrats hold majorities in both chambers.

In his weekly address, Baldacci pointed out that state spending has decreased annually since 2008 as lawmakers and the executive branch sought to close one budget gap after another.

That’s a theme that the Mitchell campaign echoed Saturday in response to an anti-Mitchell television ad by the Republican Governors Association that state “spending is up” in Augusta.

Mitchell’s camp points out that the current budget is actually less than it was in fiscal year 2005, the year she joined the state Senate. Mitchell has served as Senate president since 2008.

“Just because they come from Washington doesn’t mean LePage’s supporters can be cavalier with the facts,” Jesse Connolly, senior adviser to the Mitchell campaign, said in a statement. “By any measure, Libby Mitchell has reduced General Fund spending during her time in the Senate. Paul LePage should tell his friends to tell the truth.”

Figures from the Maine Office of Fiscal and Program Review show that the state budget increased between 3.1 percent and 5.1 percent during the first five years of the Baldacci administration.

Since fiscal year 2008, however, state spending has declined by 3.6 percent, 5.6 percent and 5.1 percent, respectively. Democrats proudly point out that, through bipartisan efforts, they were able to bridge sizable budget gaps without raising taxes.

Republicans acknowledge that spending has decreased in recent years without increasing broad-based taxes such as the sales or income tax. But they say that’s because the recession forced the majority party to make cuts in order to balance the budget.

Trahan, who is also seeking re-election on Nov. 2, said in an interview that he has counted more than 300 instances where the state made changes that resulted in more revenues from taxes, fees and other assessments in the past eight years. Trahan based his statements on information supplied by the Office of Fiscal and Program Review.

Many of those are fee increases, whether applied to potentially thousands of Mainers — such as for hunting and fishing licenses or motor vehicles — or to regulated businesses or individuals. That raises the sometimes sticky political issue of whether a fee increase is the same as a tax increase.

Trahan acknowledged that, as a legislator, he voted for some of those increases. But the Waldoboro Republican said he is not “walking around the countryside … saying I balanced the budget without raising any taxes.”

“I don’t think it is accurate to say that the Legislature balanced the budget without raising taxes,” Trahan said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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