Thursday, March 13, 2008

A few more thoughts on The Budget

As I listen to radio reports, TV reports and the newspapers, it’s becoming apparent that my assessment of state budget cuts was correct. I made two particularly appropriate comments over the past few weeks. First I said that the proposed cuts were designed to do one thing: get the neediest and poorest folk out to protest; then I said the hearings would be held when most Mainers, at least the ones who have to foot the state spending bill, would have to be on the job and could not attend hearings. I suggested the purpose was to give the Legislature an excuse to raise taxes and fees.

Yesterday, the neediest and the poorest among us indeed descended on Augusta to protest the cuts. Various agencies paraded a long line of mentally handicapped, abused people, physically handicapped, and just about anyone else you can think of before the legislative committees holding public hearings on Governor Baldacci’s proposals for cuts. We people who pay for all the welfare benefits and educational follies in this state generally weren’t represented. One group, however, offered suggestions for budget reductions that wouldn’t affect any of the people there.

The reports I’ve heard today seem to indicate the show of misery had an effect on the legislators on the committee. One said something to the effect that after seeing these people and hearing the testimony most if not all of the proposed cuts cannot take place. Have you read that outcome before? On the other hand, a different legislator was quoted as saying the proposed cuts were like a school superintendent cutting football, advanced academic courses, and music from a school budget when told to reduce his budget. You may have read that somewhere before, too.

The “one group” I mentioned above is the Maine Heritage Policy Center, a Maine think tank. In a press release it released today, it said that the chief executive officer of the MHPC, Tarren Bragdon, “presented seven specific budget areas where Maine spends significantly more than other states for similar programs.”

"The seven proposals identify reasonable, targeted changes that would save $217 million in this budget cycle and at the same time, keep Maine focused on providing a safety net for the poor, elderly and disabled. Maine is not a wealthy state, yet our enrollment parameters are far above the national averages on many programs - which create unsustainable spending levels which Maine taxpayers cannot afford," said Mr. Bragdon.

The press release adds, “J.Scott Moody, vice president of policy and chief economist at The Maine Heritage Policy Center, notes ‘Tax collections in Maine are up 36% since fiscal year 2002, a time when inflation grew by 14.4 percent and population by only 2.4 percent. Maine people are highly taxed already, so state spending must be reduced. Our seven recommendations include items like reducing the state bureaucracy and reviewing the health benefits for state employees, who currently have no out-of-pocket costs.’””

The cost of education was also addressed in the report. According to the press release, ‘"Education spending is another area where Maine taxpayers spend too much," said Stephen Bowen, the director of education policy at The Maine Heritage Policy Center. "Maine has the nation's highest ratio of non-instructional employees in our higher education system. Another way to make Maine education more efficient is to adopt the changes to the Pupil/Teacher Ratio as recently recommended by Governor Baldacci."’

The release concludes, “The seven recommendations could save approximately $217 million in the current budget cycle. An executive summary of these is included on the second page of this release. Each recommendation is detailed in the March 12, 2008 edition of The Maine View (Vol 6, No 1), which accompanies this document and is available at The Maine Heritage Policy Center's website.”

The report entitled $217 Million in Reasonable Spending Cuts to Close Budget Gap is available online at Maine Policy Heritage Center.

Tomorrow is Friday. In Maine. Guess what’s heading our way?


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