After reading former Democratic Maine House Speaker Michael Saxl’s column, “ US Chamber attack on King is vicious distortion” (BDN, Aug. 14), it became clear that Saxl, and not the Chamber of Commerce, is the one doing the distorting. The Portland Press Herald conducted a “truth test” of the Chamber’s ads, and the numbers, including the billion-dollar deficit that Angus King left Maine with, checked out.
One of Saxl’s chief complaints about the Chamber ads is that they represent “national monied interests.” As an Augusta lobbyist, however, Mike Saxl also represents national monied interests. For example, Massachusetts-based Harvard Pilgrim Health Care paid Saxl to lobby in favor of the health care reform bill passed in the Legislature last year — a bill vehemently opposed by Saxl’s Democratic former colleagues in the House, and a bill Saxl would never have allowed on the floor when he was speaker. Looks like Mike Saxl isn’t someone we should be listening to about the evils of “national monied interests.”
In his column, Saxl stated that as a “stalwart Democrat,” he never endorsed anybody outside his party, but this time, with Angus King, it’s different. It sure is. This time, Saxl is not a House speaker who is concerned about party strength, but a lobbyist who stands to profit very nicely from a cozy relationship with a newly minted U.S. senator.
The substance of Saxl’s hagiography to Angus King’s record is even more disturbing than its source. Saxl wrote that King “put Maine above partisan politics,” “eliminated [budget] gimmicks,” and passed such pro-business legislation as the Business Equipment Tax Reimbursement program. That all sounds really great. Let’s see if it’s accurate or if it’s just a bunch of fluff from a pandering lobbyist.
Conveniently, there is one story that illustrates the naked falsity of all three of those claims. In the fall of 2002, Angus King engaged in partisan politics to pass a budget gimmick that crippled the BETR program. It was a truly tyrannical trifecta that illustrates the real Angus perhaps better than any other act of his governorship.
A governor’s actions during his last few months in office display his true colors. There is no election to worry about and no political leverage to wield with the Legislature. The governor can simply do the right thing. Angus King had that opportunity in November 2002, when he called the state Legislature into session to fill a $240 million budget gap for the rest of the fiscal year.
State budgets in Maine have traditionally been passed with the support of two-thirds of the state Legislature. Instead of welcoming Republicans to the table and incorporating their ideas, however, he pushed a controversial budget bill through the Democratic-controlled Legislature with a paper-thin partisan vote. All Republicans wanted was to fill the budget gap without using gimmicks. State spending increased by almost 53 percent from 1995 when King became governor to 2002 — surely the gap could have been closed by trimming some of that extra $890 million in spending.
But no, Angus King refused to use bipartisan solutions and instead broke with Maine tradition to pass a partisan budget. In fact it was he and Democratic legislators who figured out a way to enact last-minute partisan budgets years before. They did so by using a parliamentary maneuver that required them to lie and announce that the Legislature’s business had been completed, adjourning the year’s regular session, and then move into a special session to finish the work that needed to be done. This allowed them to expedite the 90 days it takes for a budget to take effect.
The Democrats used this parliamentary gimmick with great effect to shut Republicans out of the budget process, and the aspiring savior of a broken U.S. Senate, Angus King, was complicit.
One of the components of King’s and the Democrats’ November 2002 budget was a gimmick that delayed tax reimbursements for small businesses into the next year. This maneuver is called a “push” in state government because it “pushes” off a financial problem into the next fiscal year. When King and the Democrats did it that fall, they did it at the expense of small-business owners all over Maine who had been expecting tax reimbursements for business equipment they had invested in.
If we send Angus King to the U.S. Senate, November 2002 likely won’t be the last time he bludgeons bipartisanship to enact budget gimmicks that hurt Maine taxpayers. The Chamber of Commerce has passed the truth test, but Mike Saxl deserves a big, red “F.”
David Sorensen is the communications director of the Maine Republican Party.