May 21, 2018
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TABOR II argument incomplete

By John Hanson Special to the BDN, Special to the BDN

Scott Moody of the Maine Heritage Policy Center penned an OpEd on Sept. 7 in favor of a ballot initiative sponsored by his organization. This ballot initiative is a reincarnation of the Taxpayer Bill of Rights, or TABOR, initiative also sponsored by his organization in 2006.

Maine voters rejected TABOR in 2006 and they have every good reason to vote no on TABOR II in 2009.

Moody focuses his statistical argument on two items: the difference between government job growth and private job growth; and the growth in government spending during the period 2000 to 2008.

Moody’s numbers are accurate, but they are incomplete. The data Moody chooses to exclude present a much different picture and Moody’s OpEd is, in my opinion, very misleading at best, and borders on a gross distortion at worst.

On job growth, Moody points out that from 2000 to 2008 government in Maine added workers while the private sector cut jobs. What Moody doesn’t acknowledge is that from 1990 to 2000 the private sector outgrew the public sector tenfold (the private sector added more than 60,000 jobs while the public sector added slightly more than 6,000). It is important to note that state government employment has actually declined over the recent past.

Over the entire period, 1990-2008, the rate of job growth was roughly equivalent. The private sector grew by 15.4 percent, and state and local government grew by a slightly smaller 14.9 percent.

I don’t know what the right balance of private- and public-sector jobs should be, but Maine appears to be pretty much average. In 2006 the well-known Brookings Institution report found that state-local public-sector payroll represented 6.4 percent of Maine’s income. This was slightly less than an average of 10 peer states (6.7 percent) and slightly more than the United States average (6.3 percent). Again, I don’t know what the right number is, but Maine is not much different from other states.

Moody then looks at total state government spending from 2000 to 2008. While his numbers appear accurate they are again incomplete. As anyone who follows Maine government and politics knows, the state has been on a record-setting pace of spending cuts. The state’s General Fund will be $450 million less in 2010-11 than it was in 2008-09. According to the Office of Fiscal and Program Review, the General Fund will be less in 2011 ($1.32 billion) than it was in 2000 ($1.37 billion) after accounting for inflation (using 1990 dollars).

And, as has been widely reported, the General Fund budget cutting may continue to the tune of another $100 million.

A similar trend is true for the Maine Highway Fund, which was recently cut by $50 million for the upcoming biennium.

All in all, Moody conveniently excludes significant data on jobs and the most recent data on spending to paint a distorted picture. This cherry-picking of data is misleading and distorts important information our fellow residents should be aware of.

Opponents of TABOR II believe that taxes are a concern. But we also believe that public services such as health care, education, public safety, environmental protection and highway infrastructure are all important as well. Maine doesn’t need a highly flawed scheme from Colorado to find the right balance.

TABOR II substitutes Maine’s current rational and stable spending limit that is tied to Mainer’s incomes for an irrational and unstable limit based upon inflation — which swings wildly from year to year.

TABOR II locks in the current recessionary budgets for years to come. This “ratchet-down” effect is what led voters in Colorado — the only state to have adopted TABOR — to suspend significant portions of it years ago. It makes tough times that much tougher.

While proponents would have us believe that TABOR II empowers residents, it actually does the opposite. Municipalities in Maine are free to include referendum voting in their local decision-making process today — and several have done so. TABOR II mandates that every municipality use the same referendum process, whether residents in that community want it or not. It doesn’t respect local choices, it dictates them.

Please join me in voting no on Question 4. Reject TABOR — again — once and for all.

John Hanson of Bangor is the executive director of the Maine State Building and Construction Trades Council. He also serves on the board of directors of the Maine Center for Economic Policy.

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