Opinion: Runaway spending defies Maine values

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Tax Day is a fitting day to revisit where our tax-and-spend ways have gotten us.

When the president’s own stimulus-spending coordinator, economist Gene Sperling, says we’re looking at “immense fraud” in how some of the $6 trillion we borrowed and doled out since COVID-19’s onset in 2020, it means the problem is so big they can no longer ignore it.

The government has literally become so large and bloated that it can no longer regulate itself. That, in a nutshell, is exactly what is wrong with the American economy right now. Wasteful spending extends right up to the horizon line of outright fraud. That the money was misspent will be of no interest to the creditors, 37 percent of whom were foreigners in 2020 alone (already more than three times the 10 percent it was in 2000), when it comes due.

Spending sprees like those we’ve seen over the past few years have a way of distracting attention from a responsibility of Congress that is of equal importance to its power to appropriate the funds it raises from us. That responsibility is oversight. That means controlling federal spending, not just contributing to it.

There was a time when flinty New Englanders were known to be an obstacle to expensive, and usually unnecessary, government programs. Our values, based on the tough realities of the earth and sea, taught us to be thrifty. 

Right now, Washington is doing too little to combat waste, fraud and abuse. It matters more today, because we are spending so much more. The way our politics have devolved, the only way anything can get done down there is if both sides pay each other off and agree to new spending – often without reading the bill.

Gone are the days when our leaders would single out wasteful projects and wage war on the system of earmarks and pork barrel spending. It’s not just COVID-19, but other catastrophic events over the past 20 years, like 9/11, have also sent spending through the roof.

Recently I was struck by the example of the federal government coughing up some $17 million to help Maine lobstermen cope with new regulations placed on the gear that they use to fish. This action by the progressives reminded me of the Third World, where crooked regimes make up problems they can then pretend to solve.

“I didn’t know whether to take the money or not,” a lobsterman told me. He was worried if he did, then he would be complicit in the unjust regulation based on faulty science that is killing his industry.

Meanwhile, inflation stemming from poor stewardship of the economy is itself a new tax on struggling American families. Economists at Bloomberg estimate this will cost $5,200 on average for every family in the country. At times like these we remember that inflation is a regressive tax, and is more painful to those often working the hardest to make ends meet.

We simply cannot afford to keep doing what we’ve been doing and just hope for better times. Instead, we need to adjust our attitudes, and our belts, for what will be a period of austerity – at least in the short term.

When the Pentagon downsized in the mid-1990s after the Soviet threat vanished (or perhaps better put, went on pause), communities with military bases went through a process to adapt to the new realities. We saw that happen up north at what used to be Loring Air Force Base and also closer to home at the Brunswick Naval Air Station. Communities that took stock, planned, and invested wisely for their own transitions did better.

Today it is time to start looking at every government spending program with a critical eye. Ask ourselves: is this smart and is it in line with our current needs?

In fact, there is no better day of the year to consider this new approach. After all, it is the day most of us write checks payable to the U.S. Treasury. There used to be another day we would recognize in America: Tax Freedom Day, i.e., the point in the year where one’s earnings stop going entirely to offset taxes. 

Unfortunately, that date has slipped so far into the future it might as well be forgotten for many. That is just one more reason why it’s time for a new approach. Our frugal instincts are correct and America will not tax and spend our way to a more robust economy.

By returning to Maine values, we take the first step in a better direction.

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