Friday, January 4, 2008

It's simple: We need real cuts!

The Maine Legislature is continuing its debate on where to find at least 95 million dollars in revenue shortfall to balance the state’s budget. I say “at least” simply because many folk in the know hint the deficit could be significantly higher before the fiscal year is over.

Our governor has said publicly there will be no increase in taxes or fees. He has proposed cuts mainly in the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) and the Department of Education (DOE). He emphasized that the most needy among us will not have to suffer.

But Maine Senate President Beth Edmonds told the convening senators yesterday that the cuts would hurt the elderly, the infirm, those with mental disabilities, and other highly visible needy the most. She said that cannot happen and wants tax increases kept on the table.

Over the years, legislators, school personnel, and just about all other state and local governmental departments have always picked the most visible to claim cuts will hurt when in most cases I believe reductions could be made in many ways that would not hurt the most visible among us. When anyone makes such a general statement as I just did, those fighting the cuts retort with, “OK. Show us where cuts can be made.” I can’t make specific suggestions here, but that really isn’t my job. We elect what should be responsible people to study the issues and make the necessary decisions, not to just see how much can be spent. That said, one place that I believe could be cut is the size of our 180 member legislature by perhaps at least a half. I wonder how many millions that could cut into the budget.

Have you ever noticed how a proposed reduction in a budget increase is called a “cut” by the spend crowd? Here’s a hypothetical situation: A department has a budget this year of, say, $1M and proposes a new budget of $1.10M. It might be suggested that the request be reduced by $.05M. That would be decried as a budget cut. I’ve never understood how reasonable people can fall for that one. It is only a reduction in the requested increase. If a proposed budget is just one penny more than the current budget, there is no cut. Before you get excited, I acknowledge my example does not include a cost of inflation increase.

Our legislature faces extremely difficult decisions this year, but it must consider that it is the people of Maine who are paying the bills. And we are simply running out of personal money, not only because of the increases in the cost of living but also because our legislators are taxing us into near bankruptcy.

You’ll probably get somewhat bored with my ranting and raving on this topic, but it is one of the most important facing all Mainers right now.

To be continued. (But I might have a few thoughts on Maine school consolidation tomorrow)


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