With the clock ticking toward a potential state government shutdown at midnight on June 30, Maine people are about to witness a titanic clash of competing visions about the future of our state. Over the next two weeks, the Colosseum on the Kennebec — the State House — will be the scene of a knockdown, drag-out fight over what kind of state we want to leave to our kids and grandkids.
And once again, the big spenders in Augusta have hauled the shutdown bogeyman out of the storage closet to roam the halls of the Colosseum. This biennial ritual is meant to spook legislators into accepting a budget that grows government faster than Maine taxpayers’ ability to pay for it.
Last week, Senate President Mike Thibodeau and House Speaker Sara Gideon hijacked the budget out of the Appropriations Committee. They appointed themselves and four other lawmakers to a “committee of conference” to craft a budget that we will not be allowed to amend when it reaches the House floor for debate. This is unprecedented.
In a maneuver that gives “bipartisanship” a bad name, the toga-clad RINO (Republicans-In-Name-Only) caucus in the Senate has teamed up with Gideon to propose hundreds of millions of dollars in new spending in their budget proposal, which comes on top of the 5 percent increase in state spending in the last biennial budget.
And it gets worse.
The Senate Republicans’ budget proposal funnels nearly $10 million in direct cash welfare benefits to noncitizens. Gov. Paul LePage stripped out this funding in his budget proposal back in January, but now legislative leaders have jammed it back in.
Meanwhile, we still have more than 1,200 disabled Mainers languishing on the notorious Medicaid waitlists because funding is unavailable. Many of these elderly and disabled Maine people have lived here and worked here and paid taxes here all their lives. They are being shoved aside by legislators pandering to the open-borders lobby and fiddling while Maine burns.
I have yet to read any news reporting from the Colosseum on the Kennebec that puts this proposed budget blow-out in historical perspective, so here it is: The only reason Thibodeau and Gideon have surplus money to spend this year is because of the reform agenda LePage brought to Augusta six years ago, when he vowed to clean up the cronyism and corruption of Augusta.
LePage inherited a government that was a deadbeat debtor owing nearly half a billion dollars to Maine hospitals. The state employees’ retirement fund was bleeding red ink, with more than $7 billion in unfunded liabilities. The Maine Department of Health and Human Services — which consumes over half of the state budget — wasn’t paying its bills on time, and it was cannibalizing every other function of state government with supplemental budgets in the hundreds of millions of dollars every other year.
With single-minded determination, LePage tackled these challenges and right-sized state government. Under his leadership, former DHHS Commissioner Mary Mayhew stabilized her agency and stopped the bleeding that was diverting scarce resources away from Maine’s most vulnerable residents.
The LePage/Mayhew welfare-to-work reforms have reduced unemployment and put thousands of Maine people back to work and on a path to independence.
All of these reforms are at risk if legislators cave in to pressure from left-wing progressive special interests. These groups — with sympathetic coverage from their allies in the liberal media — are right now spending tens, perhaps hundreds of thousands of dollars to browbeat legislators into supporting a budget blow-out. If the leftists are successful, state government will again be bleeding red ink before the two-year budget cycle ends.
Now more than ever, Maine people need to hold legislators’ feet to the fire. Voters need to demand fiscal sanity.
We cannot afford the job-killing 10.15 percent income tax rate for high earners, the highest in New England and twice as high as Massachusetts’ top rate. If left in place, it will turn Maine into an economic wasteland.
We cannot afford to provide welfare benefits to noncitizens.
We cannot afford to dump more money into the public schools without meaningful reforms and real accountability.
We cannot afford to undo LePage-era fiscal reforms that have right-sized government and put Maine on a path to move from poverty to prosperity.
Call the State House today, before it’s too late, and insist that your legislators do the right thing.
Lawrence Lockman, R-Amherst, is serving his third term in the Maine House of Representatives. He serves on the Labor, Commerce, Research and Economic Development Committee. He may be reached at email@example.com.