This extension-of-government-services attitude is still alive within the party. But in recent times Democratic politicians have tended to become "what used to be called moderate Republicans," as social critic Noam Chomsky said in a December speech in Westbrook. (See "Chomsky to Occupy," by Lance Tapley, December 23, 2011.) Moderate Republicans — now a rare breed — are socially more liberal than other Republicans but still protective of the rich, like Maine senators Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins.
In an interview, Democratic House minority leader Emily Cain, of Orono, demonstrated the contortions Multiple Personality Disorder bestows on its victims. When the Phoenix characterized Democrats as the party of "extending services" to needy people, she took exception.
Cain said that in recent years Democrats had done little to extend MaineCare, specifically denying Democratic responsibility for a special target of LePage's fiscal knife, giving MaineCare to 19,000 very poor adults who don't have children in their home — called "noncategoricals" or "childless adults" in Augusta policy-speak. These people had come under MaineCare, she said, during independent Governor Angus King's years in office. At the same time, she defended the program. (And, in fact, a Democratic legislature had originated and approved this extension and King had signed the bill with misgivings.)
The personality-disordered "liberal" party is quite capable of putting very economically conservative politicians in charge of government. The eight years of King's successor and LePage's predecessor, Democrat John Baldacci — who enjoyed cooperative Democratic legislatures — produced cuts in social services along with the repeal of the business-equipment property tax.
Just last year legislative Democrats congratulated themselves on helping Republicans give the state what LePage, in this January's State of the State speech, bragged was "the largest tax cut in state history," noting it was "a bipartisan effort."
Indeed it was. As the pro-LePage group Maine People Before Politics pointed out in a recent scornful news release attacking some Democrats who have turned against the tax cuts, "Not only did every Democratic leader in the Legislature vote in favor of this tax cut, but a full 64 percent of Democratic members of the Senate and 73 percent of Democratic members of the House of Representatives did as well."
The cuts will lower state income taxes in 2013 by $250 for a family making $50,000, but the richest 10 percent of Mainers will receive 44 percent of the cut, with a family in the top one percent getting a $3000 reduction. Moreover, the property exemption from the estate tax will expand from $1 million to $2 million, specifically helping millionaires. And new corporate tax breaks will cost state government $57 million in the current two-year budget.
In the future, the effects of those tax cuts will multiply into hundreds of millions of dollars in yearly losses to the state treasury. The consequences will likely make the human-services debate this legislative session seem a warm-up.
Only a Democratic Mr. Hyde could celebrate helping create this predicament while a Democratic Dr. Jekyll tries to soften its blows.
Democratic leadership is now applauding the compromise deal reached unanimously by the Appropriations Committee on February 8 to give LePage only part of his proposed cuts. (At press time it's unsure whether LePage, who has threatened a veto unless the Legislature gives him everything, will agree to the deal.)