Taking from the poor

Democratic lawmakers show their Republican values
By LANCE TAPLEY  |  May 7, 2008

Number crunching
Baldacci’s proposed cut 
Health & Human Services Department: $92.9 million
Education Department: $46.2 million
Higher education: $9.4 million  
Rest of state government: $1.8 million

Ultimate cut
Health & Human Services Department: $64.3 million
Education Department: $46.3 million
Higher education: $4.4 million
Rest of state government: $3.1 million

Using state-employee health-insurance and retiree reserves: $46.8 million
Selling “unclaimed property” stocks and bonds: $9.0 million
Postponing for a year a corporate income-tax deduction: $5.4 million
Dipping into the tax that finances the low-income housing fund: $3.1 million
Reducing commissions given to merchants for lottery tickets: $1.6 million
Other gimmicks: $6.8 million

Medicaid (for poor people’s medical bills): $10.1 million
Services for the mentally ill: $9.8 million
Child welfare services: $8.1 million
Disabled people’s services: $5.6 million
Elder services: $2.5 million

SOURCES: Office of Fiscal and Program Review, State Budget Bureau, other state departments

What values do Maine’s Democrats hold? In advance of their gathering in Augusta at the end of the month to celebrate themselves in their state political convention, let’s examine their values as expressed in the actions of Democratic lawmakers, who control both houses of the Legislature, and of our Democratic governor, John Baldacci, during the recently ended legislative session.

Because the state budget is the chief work of any session, it is the best expression of political values under the State House dome — much better, say, than politicians’ rhetoric.

When faced this year with a $190-million, recession-induced shortfall between projected government expenses and tax revenues, Democratic politicians used rhetoric like, “We will not pull the safety net out from under our most vulnerable citizens” (Governor Baldacci) and “Everything should be on the table; there’s no exemption for the business community” from financial pain (Speaker of the House Glenn Cummings).

But their actions belied their rhetoric. As usual, there was an exemption for the business community — and for the wealthy. Baldacci and the Democratic Legislature balanced the budget by cutting deeply into services for the sick, poor, elderly, disabled, and mentally ill. They also slashed state aid to elementary and high schools and funding for the University of Maine and the community colleges.

Not only did the rich and the corporations not get asked to sacrifice to balance the budget (one option would have been to take away some of their roughly $1.5 billion in annual tax breaks), but overwhelming majorities of legislators voted to shovel millions more dollars to them — though at the end of the session the Appropriations Committee couldn’t find the cash to fund these giveaways.

In representative government, your values are shown by whom you value — whom you really represent.

Baldacci called it the most productive session he could remember. In a clip shown on Maine Public Broadcasting’s Maine Watch show, Speaker Cummings enthused about how legislators had increased funding for community colleges and the rest of higher education — though a few moments later, in the live part of the program, veteran reporter Mal Leary warned about political rhetoric and pointed out that Cummings was referring to a legislative move that had only “restored some of the money that had been cut from higher education.”

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