Monday, February 11, 2008

Legislature must develop courage

It’s been said many times here that Maine is facing a financial woe. So far, the budget shortfall is approaching two million dollars, and many expect it go even higher. The Maine Legislature and the state’s governor are locked in debate on just how to find that money.

Yesterday’s Maine Sunday Telegram on its editorial pages suggested that a Blue Ribbon Commission be appointed to study the budget closely and make recommendations on cutting it. I totally disagree with the formation of such a committee. It makes no sense to me to form a very expensive commission with huge expenses to cut even further into our deepening financial problems.

I believe that the Legislators and governor, who joined together to create the problem, should now be charged with correcting it. Deep cuts on many budgets must be made and if these elected folks can’t grow the ‘fortitude’ to do it, they should resign and let us elect people who will. Seems to me there may be a more familiar or popular expression to describe the growing.

Have you ever noticed when a government entity at just about every level sets out to cut they always pick programs which bring about emotional responses from the people? School committees, for example, when faced with budget cuts, eliminate many items that directly affect the kids. Bands, sports, popular educational program, and many other kid-centered activities are on the chopping block. Parents come out in droves to protest the folly of such cuts. After all, they say, it will affect the education of the children and it is that education why schools exist. Because the tax payers want to continue the programs and they are often reinstated, the budget gets approved because “it’s what the people want.”

In many school districts administrative services have increased while school population has decreased but we rarely see any cuts in administration costs. Perhaps this is one of the reasons that Gov. Baldacci is attempting to have school districts consolidate administrative costs. I suspect most people reading this can think of many places in school budgets that could be cut without hurting the children. But school budgets aren’t the focus here; it is the state budget.

I used the school situation because it is typical of all government entities. The governor’s proposed cuts cut services of the elderly, the poor, the ill, and yes, children’s services. It accomplished the expected results; people affected and their care providers marched on the State House and demanded the services be left alone, just like parents marching to demand bands and athletics be kept.

Where in the cut proposals was the elimination of layers of bureaucracy and duplication of services in any department? I can’t cite specific figures, but a reasonable guess that easily this year’s 95 million dollar (the rest is in the second year of the budget) could be cut with simple elimination of many duplicative services and what many taxpayers perceive as bloat in the number of employees. I would hate to see anyone lose a job, but many of the jobs should never have been created in the first place.

I wonder how much money could be saved with just the elimination of the failed state attempt at universal health, the Dirigo insurance plan. Amend recent laws that have put so many restrictions on private insurance that all but a small handful of private health insurers have left the state. Did you know, for just one example, that a 50-year-old male must carry pregnancy insurance on himself?

The answer for many of our state political leaders is simple: higher and more taxes and fees. My answer is cut, cut, cut. The leaders always try to put the onus of what they should do on you: “Just where should we cut? What services can you do without?” I didn’t create the problem, they did. It is their job to get us out of it. If they can’t, then they should just get out.