Politics and other mistakes
By AL DIAMON  |  October 24, 2007

I’ve never met anybody who didn’t believe two things about themselves.

First, everybody is convinced they have an excellent sense of humor. Even though the popular success of movies like Night at the Museum and anything with Adam Sandler in it would seem to constitute strong evidence to the contrary.

Second, all human beings are born with an innate sense that they’re fiscally responsible. They may have lost their homes in the sub-prime mortgage debacle, their jobs due to their dependence on crystal meth, and their last nickel renting Ben Stiller’s latest flick. But they’ll still insist they know how to stretch a buck until it screams like a Gitmo detainee.

Thanks to these two flaws in our DNA, we’re never short of bad comedians and bad politicians. One or the other of which appears to be responsible for the bond-issue questions on the November 6 ballot.

At a time when the state has cut back services to people with mental illness, when it’s considering reductions in programs for abused children, when it’s struggling to balance the current budget and facing warnings that revenues to cover the next state spending plan will fall short of expectations, those funny and fiscally responsible folks in the Legislature are suggesting we borrow $134 million. And pay over $40 million in interest. That’s in addition to the $131 million (and $38 million in interest) we voted to bond back in June.

It’s hard to tell if Maine is being run by smart financial managers or smart mouths.

If all three bond issues win passage, the state will be borrowing more than it’s scheduled to pay off this year by about $170 million. That will bring the total amount we owe to over a half-billion dollars. What will we be getting in return for all that red ink? Let’s examine the ballot questions in a calm, objective manner.

Just kidding (like you, I have an excellent sense of humor). What I really meant was let’s barbecue these porkers.

First on the grill is a bond issue for $55 million to — in the words of the ballot writers — “stimulate economic development and job creation,” which will be accomplished by using the money for “research, development and commercialization.”

What that actually means is — well, frankly, I haven’t got a clue. It appears as if the state will hand out cash to businesses that have interesting ideas (start happy hour at noon, give everybody free lobsters, double the pay of newspaper columnists whose first name rhymes with “pal”), after which the companies will do whatever they want with it. If, as a result of these grants, some entrepreneurs manage to develop viable products, they’re free to set up manufacturing facilities (in China) and marketing operations (in New York). Thereby helping Maine’s economy in ways that aren’t entirely clear to me.

Supporters of this bond issue often cite a report by the Brookings Institution, a Washington think tank (a euphemism for laugh factory) which suggested Maine invest $180 million in research and development. What they’re less likely to mention is that Brookings recommended getting that money not by borrowing, but by cutting state spending (what a bunch of jokesters).

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Related: A progressive guide to ballot questions, December 20, 2006, Rewriting Staples history, More more >
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