Saturday, March 22, 2008

We're let down again!

Although the state budget crisis isn’t technically over, it appears the Democrats have stuck it to us again. Working closely with the Democrat governor, the appropriations committee has approved a 190-million dollar adjustment to the state budget, an amount that will close the projected budget gap. Republicans were not involved.

I see the problem as its being temporary. No structural changes in actual spending were made and without those changes, we will be facing more crises, possibly as early as next month. For example, our Medicaid (known as MaineCare in this state) payments are among the highest in the country. We have something like one quarter of all Mainers eligible for MaineCare. The Republicans wanted to tighten eligibility requirements so that not as many would be eligible, bring the requirements closer in line to the requirements of other states. The Democrats wanted nothing to do with that, so although they have shifted some of the cost, the underlying problem remains.

The Republicans wanted some changes in benefits to state legislative workers. Right now Maine taxpayers pay 100% of insurance costs for state workers. Most businesses in Maine pay a portion of those costs and the Republicans believe that’s the way it should be for state workers as well. They proposed requiring those state workers working for the Legislature pay 10% of the cost. They also want those workers to take three unpaid holidays during the year. It doesn’t surprise me the workers objected, and the Democrats agreed with the workers.

The Republicans proposed other cuts in the state budget, too; but they also were rejected by the Democrats even though the proposals left aid to neediest in our state intact.

It was interesting that during the committee deliberations, the Republicans and Democrats seemed to reach some agreement on some items. Thursday the gap began to widen and the Republicans declared they no longer could participate. Thursday night the committee met with the governor to iron out some final details. From news articles I’ve read, Republicans did not participate. When that meeting ended after midnight, the governor announced to the world that a bipartisan budget had been successfully completed. The bipartisanship was based on the earlier participation of the Republicans in the committee hearings and meetings.

Perhaps one big change the Democrats made in that midnight meeting and real sore point for Republicans was the elimination of a committee called OPEGA which is the Legislative watchdog committee on government spending. It was truly bipartisan as it was comprised of six Republicans and six Democrats. One Republican legislator has promised to seek a “people’s veto” if that cut isn’t restored.

My observations are the result of reading and listening to various news organizations and I’ll admit I have biased eye. But all I see is basically a cut in some spending for this year but no program changes to assure that the overspending in our state isn’t stopped. We are the highest taxed state perhaps it’s the second, in the nation and the only way to help us out is to make real cuts. That has not happened in spite of a recent poll that said more than three-quarters of the state’s residents want tax cuts. The governor says the budget now approved by the committee at least doesn’t raise broad based taxes. That’s an interesting phrase, wouldn’t you say.

And wait until tax day, April 15th. It’ll be interesting to see just how much higher the shortfall actually is and how the state handles it. Even the governor has said the worse is yet to come.


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