The Democratic Governor’s Association (DGA) has posted petitions to “Stop the LePage Agenda” in every political website I regularly read, from Daily Kos (dailykos.com) on the Left to “Pajamas Media (pjm.com) on the Right for weeks now.
The signatories are offered an opportunity to “tell Governor LePage to stop his extreme right-wing agenda and start standing up for hardworking Mainers.” If we took this message seriously we would have to believe that sometime around the year 2009 Paul LePage got bored managing Marden’s Surplus and Salvage and decided he could have more fun raising property taxes, attacking public workers, and raising health insurance for rural Mainers. So much fun, in fact, that taking a large salary cut as governor was worth the price.
It’s not a real petition of course. The signatories, if there are any, have no desire to “tell” the governor anything and the DGA can’t possibly want him to change his evil ways. Gee, he might get re-elected if he did that.
There’s nothing mysterious about our governor’s agenda. His goal is to reinvigorate Maine’s economy and the means to this end are reduction of the state’s tax burden, rationalization of its regulatory systems, cheaper energy, a more effective educational system, welfare reform, a stabilized budget, and increased governmental efficiency.
The Maine Democratic Party (MDP) also wishes for a more dynamic state economy, but their agenda for accomplishing this goal, beyond ejecting LePage from the Blaine House, remains unclear. An examination of the DGA website provides some clues. It lists the accomplishments of twenty incumbent Democratic governors.
Two of these governors are credited with accomplishments which seem oddly familiar. West Virginia’s governor receives credit for saving taxpayers millions by revising the state pension system and privatizing workers’ compensation. He stabilized state finances by establishing West Virginia’s rainy day fund, reformed the state’s medical system, and is“fighting to reduce taxes.” He also “saved West Virginians millions” by vetoing increases in DMV fees. Sounds sort of…you know…extreme right-wing, doesn’t it?
The site does not tell its visitors who Governor Tomblin had to “fight” to reduce taxes. I can help out there. Twenty four of the state’s thirty senators and fifty-four of its hundred Representatives are Democrats.
Paul LePage’s reform of Maine’s pension system, with the able assistance of Bruce Poliquin, is one of his salient achievements, so we note with interest that the West Virginian is the only governor mentioned by the DGA for achieving something similar. This is especially interesting since Moody’s 2011 data shows ten states with pension liabilities higher than total yearly revenues.
Louisiana has a Republican governor with GOP legislative majorities. Last June Gov. Jindal signed a pension reform plan amid much gnashing of the teeth, rending of garments and tearing of hair by the public employees unions. New Jersey has a Republican governor with Democratic legislative majorities. At the beginning of this year Gov. Christie signed a pension reform bill which forced public employees to pay more for their pensions and health benefits and pushed back their retirement age.
Illinois, Kentucky, Hawaii, Colorado, Maryland, Connecticut, California, and Alaska all have huge unfunded pension liabilities and Democratic governors. If they’ve proposed programs to solve their states’ pension funding problems the DGA hasn’t noticed.
Tomblin isn’t the only Democrat to cut taxes. We read that Arkansas’s Gov. Beebe “Secured the largest tax cut in Arkansas history.”
There’s no mention on the website of any other Democratic governor cutting taxes. No mention of any tax increases either. Maryland’s Governor Martin O’Malley, the Maine Democrats’ 2012 convention keynote speaker, receives credit for working to eliminate the $1.7 billion projected deficit which grew under the previous administration., run by some guy also named Martin O’Malley. I’ve read elsewhere that these two O’Malleys raised 32 taxes amounting to $2.3 billion, but the DGA makes no mention of this, so how can we be sure?
Martin O isn’t the only governor credited with tackling their state’s budget deficit. Oregon’s Kitzhaber receives full credit for eliminating the state’s $3.5 billion budget deficit. This deficit grew during the administrations of three previous Democratic governors, two of them also named Kitzhaber. The DGA doesn’t tell us whether Oregon’s tax increases on rich people earning over $125,000 per year helped eliminate the deficit.
There’s some good news about the administrations of these twenty governors. None of them are reported to favor spending. The bad news is that almost all of them favor “investment” although none have any history of investing their own money in anything. A remark by Calvin Coolidge, one of Paul LePage’s favorite extreme right-wing presidents, comes to mind: “Nothing is easier than spending the public money. It does not appear to belong to anybody. The temptation is overwhelming to bestow it on somebody.”
Investment in education is favored by nearly all. Nothing is said about any returns on these educational investments. Politically speaking, this is hardly relevant. Most voters seem to believe in the vending machine theory of education: put your money in and out comes education. The idea, expressed by both Paul LePage and Eliot Cutler, that Maine’s public education needs reform more than money has no appeal to Democratic governors.
Some may remember that our governor and the GOP majority achieved an incomplete reform of the state’s regulatory structures with the consent of a majority of the Democratic legislators. Nobody seems to know which party created the regulatory tangle needing reform in the first place, but that’s a matter for historians. We can say, however, that the DGA has no news about any regulatory reform programs by its stable of chief exclusives. I suppose they assume that only an extreme right-winger could fantasize an imperfect, ineffective regulation with undesirable unintended effects.
We may infer from the DGA celebration of their governors’ achievements that Maine’s Democrats aren’t interested in reducing the state’s tax burden; have exhausted their interest in regulatory rationalization; prefer green energy to cheaper energy; believe our public schools will be OK if we just invest more money in them; have no interest in welfare reform; are rather casual about government efficiency; and count on tax increases to stabilize the budget. Inference is never conclusive, but we have to work with the information available. The recent fund-raising appeal by Ben Grant, their state chairmammal, mentions working with the Democratic Governor’s Association on next year’s race.
The Democrats’ agenda, as it begins to take shape, appears in accord with DGA thinking. They had a lot to say about tax cuts for rich during last year’s campaign, but it turns out that staving off “draconian” budget cuts requires increased sales taxes on the rich, middle class, and poor alike. We can console ourselves with the thought that this includes “lodging taxes” on wealthy rusticators, summer complaints, visiting extra-terrestrials and transient terrorists. Never mind the collateral damage to the natives.
Professor John Frary of Farmington, Maine is a former US Congress candidate and retired history professor, a Board Member of Maine Taxpayers United and publisher of www.fraryhomecompanion.com and can be reached at: email@example.com