May 22, 2018
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LePage: What’s Old is New Again

Gov.-elect Paul LePage is smart to put together a group to begin working on a plan to further reduce state spending over the next two years. But for a campaign that denigrated government insiders and suggested that nearly everything the current administration has done is wrong, the makeup of the group is puzzling.

Sawin Millett and Peter Mills, two members of the team, are among the smartest people in the State House, but they are consummate insiders. Mr. Millett has been a member of the Legislature’s Appropriations Committee for the past eight years. If he thought that Gov. John Baldacci’s budget pro-posals were so terrible, he shouldn’t have voted for them. He was also the commissioner of finance under Gov. John McKernan, not a governor remembered fondly for his budgetary decisions.

Mr. Mills, who served 16 years in the Legislature, has long had worthwhile alternatives when it comes to taxes and spending, many of which have been rejected by his own Republican colleagues. He was the only Republican to vote for a tax reform plan that would have lowered the income tax while extending the sales tax to new items. Although the plan was dubbed the “Maine Miracle” by The Wall Street Journal, Republicans led an effort to have the reform repealed by voters.

Ryan Low, who served until earlier this year as Gov. Baldacci’s finance director, is another member of the budget group. The LePage team is smart to find out everything Mr. Low knows about recent budget decisions. But, relying on his expertise negates the LePage camp’s frequent criticism that Gov. Baldacci made of mess of state finances.

Additional members of the team include four other former members of the Legislature and a former administrator for the Maine Hospital Association.

It is also odd for a candidate who ran on a platform of business, versus government, experience and expertise not to include business leaders on his budget committee. His transition team said more members with business experience will be named to the group next week. This is good news if they aren’t outnumbered by more retired lawmakers.

Mr. LePage is right to get a jump on the difficult task of balancing a budget in the face of an expected $1 billion shortfall, growing pension liabilities and a campaign pledge to pay hospitals money they are owed for Medicaid services. But making up a team of former lawmakers and the outgoing governor’s former financial chief isn’t likely to generate ideas that haven’t already been considered.

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