For about six years, I was fortunate to have breakfast once a week with former governor Angus King, along with Democratic and Republican leaders from the House and Senate. Even when partisan interests were occupying our thoughts, King always made sure that we had an open forum to discuss our individual interests and try to find common ground. And, while neither Democrats nor Republicans always got all that we wanted, we came to recognize that the result put Mainers first.
Knowing and admiring King, through my eight years of service with him, I recently came to a difficult personal decision. While I have always been a stalwart Democrat and have never endorsed someone not in my party, I determined that this year’s U.S. Senate race is different.
We are at a crossroads in our country and in our state, and we desperately need to send someone to the U.S. Senate who can put Maine above partisan politics and who cares more about achieving a positive result than beating the other guy. We need someone who can embrace the tradition of former U.S. Senators Edmund Muskie, Margaret Chase Smith, George Mitchell, William Cohen and our recent great leader Olympia Snowe. That person is King. King is neither Democrat nor Republican; he is simply a Mainer, and in my experience he always puts Maine first.
That’s why it was so disappointing to watch the vicious distortions of King’s record by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. And, of course, these attacks are but a harbinger of the mud we can expect to be flung by the national monied interests that want to pervert our Maine elections for their out-of-state interests. They misrepresent King as a liberal spender who grew state government and left our state with a large deficit. That simply is not true. We remember and know better.
King came into office in 1994, at a time when Maine was in fiscal crisis. Budgets had been passed with gimmicks such as the payroll push in order to cope with challenging economic conditions. There was no real rainy day fund, and the Legislature had to issue Tax Anticipation Notes, or TANs, because revenues had lagged. We used those next years of economic strength to build a rainy day fund, growing it from a meager $6.4 million in 1994 to $143.7 in 2001, the highest in Maine history.
We eliminated gimmicks. We returned money to the state retirement fund and set aside reserves so we didn’t need to issue TANs. We paid down debt. And judging by the state’s high credit rating, Maine must have been doing pretty well. Moody’s upgraded Maine’s rating from Aa3 to Aa2, the first upgrade for the state in 16 years, stating that the rating reflected “improvement in the state’s financial position through responsible financial management and spending discipline, an increased pace of economic recovery, and the maintenance of a moderate level of tax-supported debt.” Fitch Ratings upgraded Maine’s bond rating to AA+, the highest in the state’s history.
When we had paid down the gimmicks, King and the Legislature turned their attention to lowering taxes, investing in infrastructure and making prudent investments in health care and education. King established the Business Equipment Tax Reimbursement program, so we could remove barriers to investment in capital intensive industries such as papermaking, indexed income tax rates, lowered the sales tax, increased the Earned Income Tax Credit and lowered property taxes through the Homestead and Circuit Breaker programs. By the end of his administration, King had cut taxes by more than $429 million annually.
Through an initiative driven by the administration and the Legislature, we paid cash for many infrastructure improvements such as those at the Maine State Prison and Youth Center, where kids had been warehoused in unsafe group settings — where groups like Amnesty International were actively investigating as if Maine was a developing country. Not only were our budgeting practices prudent, but they were also humane, making sure that Maine’s economic growth would help the least among us as well as those more fortunate.
One of the most egregiously misleading claims made about King’s administration is that he left the state with a $1.2 billion deficit. This is patently false. Maine’s Constitution requires a balanced budget, and that is exactly what we had. In fact, King’s fiscal responsibility and infrastructure investments saved Maine from the hard landing that many other states experienced in the 2001 recession.
King has a proven record of working for Maine’s interests, not just for party politics. When you aren’t keeping political score, you have a lot more time to think about the issues and make smart, informed policy decisions. The gridlock and inefficiency of today’s national politics makes this kind of problem-solving and practicality even more important. King’s leadership, prudence and independence made it happen. That kind of proven leadership makes him the best candidate to represent Maine in the U.S. Senate.
Michael Saxl was speaker of the Maine House of Representatives in 2001-2002 and is managing principal of Maine Street Solutions. He is a 1985 graduate of Bangor High School.