A few days ago I mentioned that our governor, John Baldacci, had publicly pledged that this state would not raise taxes or fees to fix a projected $95 million shortfall. There were many observers who said at the time that $95 million was conservative. This past week it was announced the shortfall would be closer to $200 million and many of those astute observers are saying it’ll probably go a lot higher before it’s over.
Not surprising, tax and fee increases are back on the table. And, because the state can’t admit is has screwed up, the governor is blaming the federal government, specifically President Bush, for the problem. You see, the feds have changed the formula for how it will repay the state for welfare and Medicaid (called MaineCare in Maine) funds. Naturally the proposed cuts were in programs designed to help seniors, foster children, and other such measures. The proposal succeeded in getting dozens of people to Augusta to protest the cuts.
I’ve read somewhere that Maine is one of just two states that do not adhere to a federal welfare rule limiting assistance to 5 years. During that 5 year period, recipients are expected to be training to find a job and actually finding one. The federal government pays a majority portion of the cost of recipients, for up to those five years. In Maine, the assistance doesn’t stop but the state’s taxpayers must pick up the full cost. As one example, I’ve read that a single mother with two children in Maine receives the equivalent of nearly $60 thousand dollars in assistance, including housing assistance, food stamps, medical among the programs. That’s some incentive to get off welfare. And a great incentive for folks in other states to move to Maine after their five years is up.
As the Legislature begins looking for tax increases or even new taxes and fee increases or new fees, it should be considering ways to actually cut expenditures. Governmental fees, incidentally in my humble opinion, are simply taxes with a different name. The state’s own house needs to be put into order before it levies or even considers levying more taking from its citizens.
One simple example of disorder includes finding the several millions of dollars “lost” by the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) last year. The 50-million dollar boondoggle of computer reform is another. Discovering why Maine’s hospitals and medical providers haven’t been paid millions of dollars is another problem. The spending of 20 million dollars on a very risky investment, which collapsed, is another. The governor and a task force recommended that Maine reduce its spending to bring it in line with national averages rather than being at the top in almost every category could save double the budget shortfall. But Maine likes being the second, and when all this is done, the highest taxed state in the nation. It likes being #1 in welfare benefit payments, #1 in MaineCare payments, #1 in just about every category that involves money.
I would like to see Mainers finally tell their legislators that enough is enough. Cut the damned spending and lower the tax rates. I’m very sorry for the “dozens” of people who protested the cuts, but I think it’s time for this state to start thinking of the million of us who foot the bill for the legislators’ foolishness.