Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Don't know what happened, but I have a suggestion.

If you’re visiting here to get my take on today’s state budget cut hearings, you’re in for a disappointment. I don’t know what happened there. Now I probably could wait until after the six o’clock news to form my opinions, but I don’t choose to do that. So I’ll just offer a couple uninformed opinions.

I do know from news reports that as I predicted last night hundreds of people crowded through the capitol buildings’ hallways today pressing the legislatures to keep the budgets of many, many programs, mostly educational and welfare, intact. The news reports say those protestors suggested that the cuts be found elsewhere or that taxes be raised.

We are already the second highest taxed state in the nation and many people say they simply can’t pay any more. The governor has told the Legislature that Mainers have reached the saturation point and he won’t support tax increases. The solution to our budget crisis is simple. But cutting the budget in the face of all the protestors will take a whole lot more intestinal fortitude than I suspect our legislators have.

Maine has one of the most generous welfare programs in the country. It may be the most generous. Several studies have indicated that if the state would just make eligibility requirements more in line with the requirements of the federal government, hundreds of millions of dollars could be saved. It is true that many of those benefitting from the state’s generosity would be affected, but by lowering those standards some reports say the neediest among us could continue to get help.

I would guess that changing the rules right now might be impossible so such a change would have little or no effect on the $95 million shortfall in the first, this current, year of the two-year budget cycle, but if the decision were made reasonably soon and the state had a couple months to plan and implement the changes, it would have a dramatic effect on the second year of the cycle. To this overly simplistic mind, such a change makes sense.

But I’m not a legislator and did not participate in the creation of the crisis. I don’t recall a single legislator asking me how to spend my tax money. Therefore, I do not expect any legislator would consider these thoughts, either, if these ideas were read by one. Of course I do not take the credit for this particular solution to the budget problem. All I have done is form my opinion from a variety of sources that have been reported in the last several days.


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