Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Spending Cuts Can Make Us "Average"

“Average” has become the new buzz word in our state capitol, Augusta. I’ve mentioned several times here that we are the highest or second highest tax state in the nation. Today I found out that the Tax Foundation, a non-partisan educational group, says we are the second highest state and local tax state.

The Waterville Morning Sentinel newspaper reported this morning that in a conference in Augusta yesterday, a speaker said Maine must move closer to the “average” in its spending if it wants to give us some relief to all those taxes. Richard Silkman, a former state planning director and now vice president of Maine Public Spending Research Group, a non-profit, non-partisan group that analyses tax and spending data, specifically pointed out that three areas, special education, teachers’ pay, and Medicaid, which together comprise the largest budget expenditures, have to get closer to “average.”

That, of course, means some very tough decisions are facing our lawmakers as spending cuts may be the only way out. Silkman said that the only way to become “average” is to spend at national averages.

Maine, he said, has a high student-teacher ratio and puts more than 18% of its students into special education classes. The national average, he said, is less that 14%.

On the Medicaid side he told the audience that this state has a very generous benefit package. Medicaid is partially funded by the federal government, but about one quarter of all Maine residents are enrolled. The benefits exceed those of federal limits.

At least one Republican legislator told the group that if reducing the deficit is honestly a priority, then serious cuts in the budget must be made. And today, another legislator, a Democrat, agreed and told a local TV station (WCSH-TV) the Legislature must make those tough decisions so that the state can become "average" in its spending.

Naturally, people who receive all the freebies from Maine government will oppose any attempt to cut funding. But making cuts will be necessary if spending is to become “average” as has become the newest buzz word.

I also believe we must stop the funding of generational welfare recipients. Maine has become a state that welcomes just about anyone who needs such help, whether from our state or from “away.” I’m among many Mainers who want to help those in immediate need, but have a hard time with families that get into welfare and don’t want to get out (usually, I understand, because the welfare bennies are better than working wages). But jobs are out there and most unemployed people could help themselves. I’m not the hard-nosed person this sounds like. I have worked up to three jobs at the same time in the past while my wife has worked while we raised two children to make ends meet.

I applaud efforts to cut spending in Maine. It’s a position our Legislature has put us in, and it’s now evident it’s a position it must free us from.


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