Lure of the campaign obscures big policy decisions

By David Farmer,
Posted March 07, 2012, at 4:14 p.m.

While the eyes of the political world have been affixed at the rising and fading moons circling U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe’s unexpected retirement last week, the slow grinding wheels in Augusta have continued to turn.

Late last month, Gov. LePage signed a partial budget fix that closed a gap in the budget for the Department of Health and Human Services for the current fiscal year.

The compromise, which rejected many of the worst proposals presented by the governor, was merely an appetizer for decisions that are still being debated.

Politics — and the gamesmanship and theater that go along with it — is a spectator sport. Have as many reporters ever listened to a lecture about the Cuban Missile Crisis before this week?

People love to watch. To speculate. To bet on the horses.

Governing, meanwhile, is slow and trudging. It’s the exact opposite of elections, although the players are the same, and it’s easy for folks to lose track of this budget fix or that revenue reforecast. It’s based, often times, on incremental progress, small fixes that begin to address much larger problems and uncomfortable compromise.

It’s no wonder that the budget fight in Augusta has gotten swallowed up by the much more exciting prospects.

So here’s a refresher on what’s at stake.

Republicans are still considering changes to MaineCare, which would violate maintenance of effort requirements imposed by the federal government. They are so determined to take away health insurance from 7,000 very poor 19- and 20-year-olds that they are willing to eliminate coverage in violation of federal law.

The same thing is true for about 14,000 parents whose children qualify for MaineCare. They remain on a list of proposed cuts despite the fact the federal government is unlikely to approve them.

Other cuts that are still under consideration include the Fund for Healthy Maine, which provides preventative health care, and programs that help seniors afford their prescription drugs.

There are cuts to Head Start and child care, home visitations and school-based health centers, and dental services for low-income people without dental insurance. They might even cut immunizations.

And there’s still no answer to the proposal to close what are called private nonmedical institutions, which provide housing and support to roughly 5,000 people who can’t live on their own.

Then there’s Gov. LePage’s promised supplemental budget, which is likely necessary to keep government operating. Maybe it includes big policy proposals or maybe it’s just small stuff to balance the books internally as needs have changed.

So far, nobody outside the administration really knows what it might or might not be.

Finally, revenues continue to be unstable, creating a new shortfall, while a new computer problem at DHHS has put all the governor’s math into question one more time.

While the majority Republicans would have you think that the budget fighting going on is all about tough love and cutting the fat from government, the implications will touch every community in the state.

The proposals will make it harder for working families to balance job and child care. It will take important supports away from children and it will make our state less healthy.

But it’ll do more than that. Everyone who has private insurance will see the cost of their premiums go up, partially to offset the influx of uninsured into emergency rooms. Property taxes will creep up as costs are shifted from the federal and state government onto towns and cities. Jobs will be lost as health care providers try to absorb cuts.

Those are the stakes in the next couple of weeks, plus a whole host of other issues that could change the nature of our state.

But like a moth to a porch light, our eyes are focused elsewhere.

The great irony of it all: While we are watching with rapt attention as many of our best and brightest political leaders consider a run for Congress, the people who we have already elected are still busy at work. We’re just not paying as much attention.

But if that doesn’t change, a little while down the road — and months before we know who gets elected this fall — we’re going to look around and wonder what happened.

David Farmer is a political and media consultant. He was formerly deputy chief of staff and communications director for Gov. John E. Baldacci and a longtime journalist. You can reach him at dfarmer14@hotmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @dfarmer14.

http://bangordailynews.com/2012/03/07/opinion/contributors/lure-of-the-campaign-obscures-big-policy-decisions/ printed on July 26, 2014