Op-Ed: A Six-pack, your credit card, and the car keys, please…

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I’m getting real tired of being lectured about morality by the Speaker of the House, Rep. Mark W. Eves (D-North Berwick).

One year ago, during the debate over reigning in the explosive growth of Maine’s Medicaid programs, then-Rep. and Speaker-to-be Eves praised the decade-long expansion of the welfare state as a “wise investment” of taxpayers’ money. He claimed that Maine people are healthier and more productive as a result of increased MaineCare enrollment, and charged that it would be “morally wrong” to deny free health care to any of the tens of thousands of new enrollees, many of them able-bodied young people with no children.

More recently, Speaker Eves has declared his full-throated support for adding another 55,000 able-bodied adults to the MaineCare rolls, under the pretext that the feds say they will bear 100% of the cost for the first couple of years (sound familiar?). With a breath-taking air of moral superiority, Eves declared that another round of federally-subsidized MaineCare expansion is the “right thing to do morally.”

Excuse me, but when did Speaker Eves become our chaplain? Who appointed him to give lectures on morality? Is he a cardinal perhaps? Has the Vatican elected a new pope?

Frankly, I find his habitual pontificating more than a little annoying. To suggest that those with a different opinion about proposed legislation are somehow immoral, or are promoting immorality, is patently offensive. He needs to knock it off if he expects to earn even a token level of respect from his legislative colleagues.

On the merits, Eves’ push for more welfare spending is naïve, reckless, and irresponsible. The federal government is flat broke. Where does Eves think those promised federal dollars will come from? With the feds already borrowing more than 40 cents of every dollar spent, Eves is proposing to pile even heavier debt on our children and grandchildren. Doesn’t he see any moral problem with borrowing from our grandkids?

Meanwhile, Eves and his Democrat colleagues are dragging their feet on paying off the nearly half billion dollars of unpaid MaineCare bills run up during the scandal-plagued Baldacci administration. The Dems are pushing back hard against Gov. Paul LePages’s proposal to use liquor revenue to pay the hospitals right away, but they have no plan of their own to pay the debt. In fact, Senate President Justin Alfond (D-Portland) has been suggesting since 2008 that we don’t need to pay the hospitals.

State government has been a deadbeat for way too long. In fact, here’s how bad the Baldacci legacy is. Central Maine Medical Center in Lewiston was owed $600,000 for treatment of MaineCare patients when John Baldacci was elected Governor in 2002. Today the hospital is owed over $50 million.

The dirty little secret at the State House is that the majority party wants the revenue stream from the liquor contract to flow directly into the General Fund, so it can fuel more entitlement spending and lock in the smothering embrace of the Nanny State.

This will not end well if Eves and his colleagues have their way. Letting the Legislature get its hands on this revenue stream is like giving your teenage son a six-pack of beer, your credit card, and the keys to the family car on a Saturday night.

It’s time for stone-cold sobriety and a reality check at the State House.

Maine’s safety net has already been stretched to the breaking point. Enrolling tens of thousands of additional Mainers will come at the expense of our most vulnerable citizens, the elderly poor and disabled—those who truly need the safety net. Eves’ agenda would throw granny in the snow bank in order to accommodate the swelling underclass of younger and healthier folks who believe the state owes them a living.

To put this in human terms, we need to keep asking ourselves who is most worthy of our limited resources. Will we make sure your 75-year-old grandmother who lives alone has her meds and stays warm this winter? Or will we continue to subsidize your 28-year-old able-bodied but unemployed nephew and make sure he has a free cell phone, free health care, free methadone and free cab fare to the methadone clinic? Our resources are limited and we’re drowning in debt; we can’t afford to carry both of them.

Lawmakers will have many tough choices to make in the next year or two, but this one is easy. And you don’t need a graduate degree in family therapy or ethics to figure out which is the right choice.

 

Lawrence E. Lockman (R-Amherst) represents House District 30 in the Maine Legislature. He serves on the Labor, Commerce, Research, and Economic Development Committee.

 

1 COMMENT

  1. Dear Mr. Lawrence E. Lockman (R-Amherst) please consider the following with respect to morality.

    “At the end of the day, all we have is our character,” LePage said. “And a good character is you live by what you say you are going to do and you pay your bills. And I sure believe the state of Maine should not have the reputation of not paying its bills.”[1].

    To some the governor is demonstrating leadership, by defining the core values of Mainers; “live by what you say you are going to do and you pay your bills”. This will no doubt create some chest thumping.

    To others the governor is simply manipulative; embarrass the citizens into thinking payment of an economic debt is a matter of morality.

    Economic debt is the obligation to pay a certain sum of money; a simple, cold, and impersonal transaction and transferable. Human effects are not calculated, only principle and interest.

    Morality refers to a code of conduct that applies to all who can understand it and can govern their behavior by it; morality should never be overridden, that is, no one should ever violate a moral prohibition or requirement for non-moral considerations.

    How is our sense of morality and justice reduced to the language of a business deal; a moral obligation becomes an economic debt? Money. It is money’s capacity to turn morality into a matter of impersonal arithmetic, justifying what would otherwise seem outrageous or obscene.

    Consider in 2010 voters approved the Oxford Casino under the promise that 46 percent of the profits would help fund public education in Maine. However, unless something has changed, the governor intends to use those funds ($14 million) to address a gap in the state’s budget.

    In doing so the governor broke a promise between the state and its citizens on where the $14 million was to be spent. A debt obligation involving a budget gap took precedence over a moral obligation in the education of children; “good character is you live by what you say you are going to do.”.

    With respect to the hospital debt, an article in the Bangor Daily News provided a historical analysis of how the debt came to its current amount of $484 million[2]. However, the data was provided by DHHS whose inconsistent financial reporting over the last two years raises the following questions.

    If the state struggles with understanding the area of their own financial house related to healthcare, why should I believe the state is correct in stating what is owed to the hospitals?

    Has there been an audit of the $484 million hospital bill by a third-party?

    When the bill comes at a restaurant, or to our home, it is normal to validate its accuracy before we pay it. We’ve all experienced inaccurate bills and had them corrected. What if an audit discovered $14 million (3% of $484 million) in erroneous hospital billing?

    Further, has Maine been billed fairly by the hospitals? An extensive essay in Time[3] brings to light the significant markup in healthcare. Who benefits from these markups, the hospital, hospital executives, and/or middle-men? Paying 95 cents on the dollar would result in a payment of $460 million, a reduction of $24 million. That’s $14 million to cover the debt gap mentioned previously and $10 million for education, using the governor’s sense of priorities.

    The governor’s manipulative approach to embarrass the citizens of Maine is an insult; pushing his agenda through a grass roots effort while holding bonds and bills hostage is condescending to the intellect of all Mainers. That is the “character” of Maine’s governor.

    [1] http://bangordailynews.com/2013/03/08/politics/state-house/lepage-paying-debts-a-matter-of-character-for-maine/?ref=relatedSidebar

    http://www.sunjournal.com/news/lewiston-auburn-maine/2013/03/08/lepage-paying-debts-matter-character-maine/1331068#comment-117562

    [2] http://bangordailynews.com/2013/03/08/news/state/maines-debt-to-hospitals-30-year-roots-decade-old-political-saga/?ref=mostReadBoxOpinion

    [3] http://healthland.time.com/2013/02/20/bitter-pill-why-medical-bills-are-killing-us/

  2. I find it interesting that these liberals think there is an unlimited supply of other people’s money to spend as they, the politicians see fit. But when talking about people becoming successful and rich, they think there is a limited amount of money to go around.

  3. Are you paid to post on this site? Anyways, I like where you’re at with the distrust of government, and wanting to audit DHHS and the hospital payment structure, if only people had this attitude towards all levels and departments of the government. Something tells me that you would not hold the same opinion of, perhaps, say, the President and his budget lacking, pay as you go government. I think we should absolutely audit every last inch of our government. Something tells me you wouldn’t be to excited about that. I won’t even touch the subject of morality, for which I can’t imagine anyone on the left side of things trying to decide what ought to be and what is. I would and do cherish those debates.

  4. Thomas Czyz, It most certainly is a moral issue not to pay our hospital debts and the consequences are every bit as real as those of taking a sliver out of the vast amounts of money that we do spend on education. The pink slips have gone out from many of our hospitals in this state, positions cut and hours reduced and some programs eliminated entirely. How does stealing from our hospitals make us morally correct? Aren’t we also risking decisions that amount to risk of life for some potentially. All of that being said, I have to make tough decisions to live with what I can earn and everyone else must also, persons and all other entities including the state. It won’t be painless but we will, for the most part, survive.

  5. Ben Robinson – No I’m not paid to post on this site, it’s just recent columns on The Maine Wire tie in with essays I’ve written. The above essay is from my blog, and was further taken from another essay “Surely One Has to Pay One’s Debts”, also on my blog.

    Regarding the “President and his budget lacking, pay as you government”, as part of the 1990 federal budget agreement, the PAYGO rule was implemented. The pay-as-you-go rule required any reduction in taxes or increases in mandatory spending (entitlements) be balanced with some combination of tax increases and mandatory spending cuts. A tax reduction of one type would be offset by a tax increase of another type and / or increase of mandatory spending of one type offset by mandatory spending decrease of another type.

    The PAYGO statute expired in 2002 and not continued due to Republican opposition. A version of PAYGO was reinstated in 2007, but repealed in 2011 by the Republicans. In its place CUTGO was implemented. Any spending increase had to be offset by a spending decrease; leaving tax cuts exempt from offsets.

    If anything I was disappointed Obama caved and the CUTGO approach was implemented. The country is far from broke, rather the money has shifted into the hands of those who can’t seem to get enough and want more.

    See http://somethoughtsfrommaine.wordpress.com/ for some of my other thoughts.

  6. Gary Look – In addition to the Oxford Casino ($14 million) the governor already had cut $12.58 million from state education funding in December… and is saying schools will be flat funded for the next year.

    Is the reduction in school funding a budget issue or a reverse investment in the future towards for-profit charter schools in Maine?

    The removal of state educational funding and state revenue sharing places increasingly the cost of schools on the individual towns through increased property taxes. All will scramble to seek ways for less expensive options to education; fear of not educating one’s child a driving factor; for-profit charter schools (vouchers) easily enter, possibly welcomed.

    The hospitals should be paid, what is fairly due. Rushing to pay and holding up other bills raises many red flags as to the true intent of the governor.

  7. Oh dear, you’ve missed Speaker Eve’s point. He doesn’t give a hoot about “earning the respect of his legislative colleagues”. What he cares about is having more General Fund money to throw around, to spend “trading” for votes from his special interest dominated constituents, so they will re-elected him and he can keep or increase his power.

  8. Sorry just reading this now… It seems you have misunderstood my intent, with regard to the pay as you go government. I was not referring to the act with which you mentioned. I was merely speaking of Washington’s lack of a budget. Without a budget, one does not know the fiscal health to the degree with which I believe is constitutionally mandated. Nor could the current government even discern weather it was abiding by that act were it even in place. I have been reading other posts on your site. I think you are on to something, with big business and the corporate state. My fear is that we are entering into or have been for quite some time, a period of oligarchy. I believe big business and big government are working with each other to promote each other and enrich themselves. Most of our representatives and leaders quietly slip from one big bank to a position in a cabinet or congress and then back into major companies in the private sector. Look at career politicians who end up being the wealthiest among us, while preaching that they are fighting against the poverty divide in the country. I believe I heard the other day that the wealthiest area in the country is now Washington D.C. That is not private sector, small business, main street or middle class growth. That is a fat, big business and over reaching government growth. Look at the divide today between the Dow Jones Industrial Average and what is actually going on throughout Main Streets all across America. The reason for this is a government that uses power and coercion and big business that gives in or willing accepts the governments money under the influence of this coercion.

  9. Ben – my apologies as well for not responding sooner. I saw your comments on my website and assumed your comments here were the same, my error. Let me give it some thought and I’ll comment in the next few days. Tom

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