A man for all seasons

Politics + Other Mistakes
By AL DIAMON  |  December 4, 2013

Can you guess the name of this politician?

He wants universal health care, more state borrowing, a massive increase in the amount Maine’s government spends on schools, and to make higher education available with no upfront costs.

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mike Michaud? Wrong.

Another clue. This guy thinks the state has a spending problem, not an income problem. He says our economy suffers from “chronic underperformance,” the population is too sickly and old, and the health-care system is too expensive.

Republican Governor Paul LePage? Nope.

Our mystery pol wants to reduce government spending. So, he’s a right-winger. But he also wants to fund new, expensive government programs. So, he’s a left-winger. He’s pro-environment. Liberal. But he also favors economic development. Conservative. He supports legal abortions and same-sex marriage. But he’s ambivalent about raising the minimum wage and favors LePage-like education reforms. He also wants tax reform. But who doesn’t? He’s a revolutionary and a reactionary, all in a single, slightly flabby, package.

This weird fusion means that he can do what Michaud and LePage can’t, which is to limit his campaign promises to just one. Which is:

If you elect him governor, he will give you anything your heart desires.

Meet independent Eliot Cutler, the all-purpose candidate.

You want cheap health care and expensive schools? He’s your man. You want fairer taxes? Notwithstanding his spending plans, he can do that, too. It’s not magic. According to a 2006 Cutler op-ed, it’s just good management. “In an era when the most expensive state government functions are education and health care,” Cutler wrote, “we are not doing as good a job in Maine as we need to do of figuring out how to provide those services to our citizens efficiently, effectively and at a reasonable cost, and of tightly managing other government services so that we can afford to make greater investments in those two essential areas.”

That almost sounds sensible — until you look at the state budget, which is already more than 80 percent devoted to two departments, Education and Health and Human Services. No matter how “tightly” we manage the rest of Maine’s government, there’s little more than pocket change to be found for the costly programs Cutler wants to institute. And even he admits his health-care expansion won’t save any money for a decade or more.

That means he’ll need to raise taxes. Oops, sorry, in the language of Cutler-ese, the term is “reform” taxes. He says our current system is “regressive,” and who could disagree? But he’s vague about what ought to take its place, merely making approving noises about the plan put forward a year ago by independent state Senator Richard Woodbury of Yarmouth and his bipartisan “Gang of 11.” Woodbury’s idea was to cut the state income tax in half, eliminate the estate tax, raise and expand the sales tax, hike excise taxes, and eliminate a host of tax exemptions. The bottom line is this plan would increase taxes by about $160 million a year.

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