It's true that — to make a complicated story simple — to avoid a possible government shutdown legislators thought they had to pass a budget by June 30 with a two-thirds majority. Democrats felt pressure to compromise so as not to be blamed for closing, for example, the state parks. But Republicans might have accepted a measure temporarily continuing state operations because, as the majority, they could have been the ones most blamed. Democrats, however, had no taste for a fight. The budget passed 123 to 19 in the House, 29 to 5 in the Senate — with little debate.
Cain told the Bangor Daily News the Dems prevented the state from "moving backward." Looking at both the budget and other bills, Democrats did help kill the most radical Republican proposals. But these generally were easy kills. Bills restricting abortion, for example, never had a chance. Neither did LePage's proposal to reverse the ban on the chemical BPA in products children use. Democrats share common ground with educated "moderate" Republicans, who reflect the corporate worldview, which is not especially conservative on social and even many environmental issues.
But both the corporate and the populist Republicans, whom LePage represents, are in the same bed satisfying the economic desires of the rich and the corporations and the cuts to state spending needed to consummate them. Many Democratic politicians also participate in that orgy.
"Everyone was caught up in the drumbeat of tax reduction," said Senator Cynthia Dill, of Cape Elizabeth, who opposed the budget. Senator Justin Alfond, of Portland, the Democratic assistant leader, said he saw behind the drumbeat a nefarious long-range Republican strategy: The $400 million in tax cuts hitting the next two-year fiscal cycle will "starve" government, requiring huge future slashes to services.
With help from Republican legislators, Democrats did prevent LePage from kicking 30,000 adults off Medicaid, but Democrats accepted a five-year lifetime limit on welfare benefits, denial of Medicaid for many legal noncitizens, and drug testing of welfare recipients previously convicted of drug crimes.
As well as addicts, children apparently should starve. Democratic Representative Seth Berry, of Bowdoinham, bragged that his party prevented the punishment of kids on welfare for their parent's first offense in not following DHHS rules. But he and most Democrats accepted punishing kids on their parent's second violation. The budget estimates $3.25 million in savings from this "full-family sanction."
Democrats also went along with capping state workers' and teachers' future pension cost-of-living increases; freezing state contributions to retiree, state-employee, and teacher health insurance; and freezing state-employee pay for two years. The tax cuts, Dill said, were made "on the backs of public employees and teachers."
Democrats fought the Republicans' new law allowing health-insurance companies to charge sick and old people much higher premiums than younger and healthier people, though Democratic senators Bill Diamond of Windham, Nancy Sullivan of Biddeford, and Elizabeth Schneider of Orono voted for it. A $4 to $6 monthly tax on premiums will supposedly finance coverage for the worst off. This is "a huge tax on all of us so that insurance companies can make more money," Dill said.
DEMS FOR AND AGAINST Represenative Jon Hinck calls the budget “immoral and dishonest.”
Some Democrats are very disappointed with the session. Representative Jon Hinck, of Portland, e-mailed the Phoenix that the budget, which he voted against, is "both immoral and dishonest." Representative Adam Goode, of Bangor, also voted against the budget. He ridiculed the trickle-down rationale of stimulating Maine businesses by reducing taxes on the rich: "People making over $200,000 a year are already eating as much Gifford's ice cream as they can eat." Gifford's is a Maine business.