The battle lines are drawn

Posted March 07, 2011, at 7:18 p.m.

Late last month, following a Republican State Committee Meeting in Augusta, I went over to the State House to observe the Maine state employee’s union “Day of Rage”.

On one side of the State House was the state employee’s union, and possibly others, involved in a Wisconsin-type demonstration in opposition to Gov. Paul LePage’s budget modifications designed to control Maine state spending and taxation.

On the other side of the State House was a large gathering of Maine taxpayers. I saw a lot of folks I knew from the Republican State Committee and many “Tea Party” folks I had met at the Republican State Convention.

It was clear that the battle lines had been drawn. On one side of the state capitol were Maine taxpayers, the ultimate employers of Maine state employees; on the other side of the capitol was the state employees’ union demonstrating against their taxpayer-employers.

As a state, we are reaping seeds that were sown decades ago when our elected representatives voted to allow collective bargaining in the public sector. While collective bargaining is a reasonably effective and legitimate negotiating tool for employees in the private sector (where company owners and shareholders ultimately pay the bills, including salaries and benefits), collective bargaining in the public sector is an entirely different matter because our elected representatives send the bills, including bills for state salaries and benefits, in the form of taxes, to individual tax-paying citizens.

Maine taxpayers want and need basic but limited government services such as police/fire protection and highway maintenance. Maine taxpayers do not want, nor should they be required to pay for, unlimited government services, especially essentially life-time employment/benefits for state employees. No sane business shareholder would allow a corporate officer to enter into the kind of employment/benefit package that Maine voter/taxpayers have allowed our elected officials to enter into with state employees during a time of economic scarcity.

With a $4.3 billion unfunded state employee retirement commitment and about $8 billion in other obligations, we’re living way beyond our means. If Maine were a private business, corporate officers and directors would be fired and bankruptcy would be declared. Creditors would get only cents on the dollar from the liquidation of assets.

What I saw that recent Saturday was the crashing conflict of two political ideologies, two world views.

On the state employee union side of the State House, the political philosophies of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Karl Marx, John Maynard Keynes and Saul Alinsky were evident as they have been manifested in the Obama administration. These centrally planned and controlled elitist economies eventually lead to tyranny, loss of individual liberty, property and death.

On the taxpayer side of the State House, the political philosophies of John Locke, Thomas Jefferson, F. A. Hayek, and Milton Friedman were evident as they have been manifested in the political candidacy of Barry Goldwater, the administration of Ronald Reagan, and more recently with Gov. Scott Walker in Wisconsin, Gov. Chris Christie in New Jersey and Gov. LePage here. Small, limited self- government and its corresponding free market economic system preserves individual life, liberty and property.

It’s unfortunate and unnecessary for this money matter to become an adversarial class-warfare confrontation when a kitchen table approach to taxing, spending and budgets on a priority basis could work among friends. However, in the context of geopolitical economic considerations and anti-republic union goals, this may be overly optimistic.

Nevertheless, having worked with many state employees over decades of service, I’m sure there are many, if not a significant majority of state employees, who can be trusted to work with the governor and the Legislature to evaluate and prioritize state spending.

In the end, everyone will understand that Maine taxpayers simply cannot afford the cost of excessive government spending and taxation. To preserve our life, liberty and property, the cost of government must be drastically cut back to provide only essential services, with essential services being defined, not by unions, but by taxpayers through our elected representatives.

From this taxpayer’s perspective, essential services are defined in the preambles to the U.S. and Maine Constitutions: “establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare and secure the blessings of liberty for ourselves and our posterity.”

While economic conditions could and hopefully will change, at this time there are too many working for government and too few working in the private sector to pay the taxes required to support them. Gov. LePage’s budget is fair and reasonable and for the benefit of all Maine citizens.

Hayes Gahagan of Presque Isle is a former state senator from Aroostook County, member of the Committee on Appropriations and Financial Affairs and member of the Republican State Committee.

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