Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Is new state budget good or just another state sham?

After listening to the weather forecast this morning, I’m very happy Gator Wife and I took the time yesterday to get a lot of outside work done. And we had some help doing it. GW just about completed weeding her gardens and, working together, we got our mowing completed, and my super neighbor brought his power trimmer over and trimmed for us. Now we won’t have to work outside in tomorrow’s projected heat.

Like I’m sure you have, I’ve listened to many reports on the passage of the new state budget for the next biennium. I told you yesterday that it had been approved after a late night Monday session and will now get a full discussion in the Maine Legislature before final passage.

I won’t go into the sparse details of the budget that I’ve heard, but it sure does sound strangely like a simple shift and shaft and a budget full of piecemeal changes that won’t solve future spending problems in the state.

A lot of the budget depends on stimulus money from the feds. That’s all fine and good, I guess, since the feds are putting our children into debt for their entire lives whether we take some money or not. But using the stimulus money doesn’t explain what will happen when this budget runs out of revenue. The state will be right back where it is now. Or was yesterday.

The shift and shaft part comes from cutting disbursements to cities and towns. Sure. A lot of money is saved in the state budget so the clowns in Augusta feel pretty good about themselves. But now the city and towns will have to raise their property taxes to raise the funds they’re not getting from the state.

I’ve heard at least one legislator say in the past few weeks they aren’t forcing the municipalities to spend the money and hope they will simply make the same “valiant” cuts the state has made. I wish municipalities would cut the local budgets, too; but, unfortunately, much of the money the state sends goes to programs the state mandates they follow. That is especially true for school departments. I didn’t hear or read anything about those mandates being eliminated, so that money must come from somewhere.

Yet the governor and legislators will be back slapping all over Augusta telling us what a great job they have accomplished. Meanwhile, we will be trying to figure out in our personal budgets where we’re going to find the money to pay for these accomplishments. The state saves, no one else does.

One of the sadder parts of all this for me is self praise of the Republican leadership proclaiming what great stride they’ve made working with the Democrats to create this bi-partisan budget. The Legislature must pass the budget by a 2/3 vote so this would have been a golden opportunity to force some substantive cuts in the way the state spends our money and does its business.

I read a public relations release by the Republican leaders as they praised their efforts in providing the Democrats with the proclamation, “It’s a bipartisan budget!” and yet all that which they praise sounds only like pap. I’d bet there’s a story about their proudness somewhere in this morning’s news, but I’m going to take my cue from the Republicans and be lazy and not do my duty to search it out for you.

I do feel sorry for the state workers who will be the only ones feeling any real brunt of the new budget. They will have to take pay cuts in the form of ten furlough days while state government shuts down in each year of the biennium. But those will once again be work days after the two years. They also will have to pay a sliding percentage of their health insurance costs, but they can earn their way back to the current plan over the two years. Some cut. Of course legislators, the governor, and judges will not be faced with those cuts.

So what have we gained? My simple answer: nothing. Gimmicks do not fix budgets. Only substantive changes in spending can do that, and we do not have elected representatives in either party with the courage to make those changes. Shucks, we do not have elected representatives that can recognize there is a problem.


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