Let’s say you were working on your household budget and discovered you didn’t have enough money to pay the mortgage. You’d be faced with four options for covering that shortfall:
Now, let’s suppose you’re a member of the Legislature’s Appropriations Committee, and you have a similar problem with the state budget. No matter how you work the numbers, they still come up $10.5 million in the red. You could try one of those choices that face the desperate homeowner. Except there are political consequences for anyone who even suggests cutting spending or raising taxes. And bankruptcy and bank robbing are both going to do some damage to your approval rating. So, you might consider what the committee actually did this spring, when it discovered it had a $10.5 million gap it couldn’t figure out how to close. It decided to engage in fantasy budgeting.
Here’s how that concept works. You just insert a line in your spending plan that says you’ll figure out how to cover your debts later. Like an IOU. Only not so reliable.
In June, the Legislature approved a budget for the next two years that contains a fantasy provision. Now, the committee is calling on Maine citizens to help them meet that little multi-million-dollar obligation by suggesting ways to save money. Once legislators have identified $30 million in potential cuts, they say they’ll narrow the possibilities down to whatever it takes to balance the budget.
“If we can’t find $10.5 million out of a budget of $6.3 billion,” said Appropriations Committee member state Senator Karl Turner of Cumberland to Mal Leary of Capitol News Service, “we ought to be taken out and shot.”
I know what you’re thinking. Don’t do it. They’ll have you arrested.
Also, it wouldn’t solve the shortfall. It might even add to it, what with the legal costs and all. So, I suppose I’ll have to do the responsible thing and offer my recommendations for filling the fiscal hole. (Some of the salaries mentioned below are based on a list published by the Bangor Daily News on July 14.)
Let’s start with an easy one. As a penalty for approving a budget containing a gimmick this absurd, all 13 members of the Appropriations Committee should sacrifice their salaries for this two-year session. Total savings: $284,297.
If you wanted to take that one step further, you could dock the pay of every representative and senator who voted for this spending plan. There were 140 of them, which brings the cuts to more than $3 million.
That was fun. Now, let’s fire some people.
First on my list is Susan Gendron, the state education commissioner and architect of the Baldacci administration’s wacky scheme to save $36 million this year by consolidating school districts. If she and her $100,672 annual paycheck were gone, would anyone outside the governor’s office notice? If not, I suggest continuing to can the highest paid bureaucrats in her department until somebody discovers something important isn’t getting done. Even if that only gets rid of another four people, the salary savings would be over $340,000.
A brain harvesting scandal? A family who received the wrong corpse? Is state medical examiner Margaret Greenwald being paid $167,648 a year to run her department like the Portland school system? We could get someone half as incompetent for half the money. Savings: almost 84 grand.