What's wrong with Augusta?

By AL DIAMON  |  January 29, 2009

In 2002, the economic gurus predicted the worst was over. By November, the structural deficit had grown to $1 billion. The voters chose Democrat John Baldacci as the new governor (yeah, the same guy who's still governor and still dealing with massive deficits).

Even at major investment banks, they eventually fire people for these kinds of fuck-ups. True, they give them bonuses to ease the pain. But they still give them the boot.

In Maine government, they just pretend it's not their fault. But somebody or something must be to blame. High energy costs? Unanticipated expenses from natural disasters? Extra spending to house state prison inmates in county jails?

According to Democratic state Senate President Libby Mitchell, in a column published in Capital Weekly on January 8, 2009, those issues played minor roles in our current economic disaster.

"The major reason, however, is the deepening of the national recession," she wrote. "Maine's budget, like that of 49 other states, is ailing as a result of Wall Street greed, the widespread collapse in the housing market and eight years of Bush's disastrous economic policy."

Which is another way of saying what everybody in state government has been saying since the boom of '99 came to an end:

Nobody's to blame.

The fact is somebody was. And is. And, in all likelihood, will be. Because almost everybody in the Augusta of 2009 believes there's no need for fundamental change — the kind of change that will result in a smaller, less expensive state bureaucracy, a simpler, more stable tax system, and budgets predicated on reality or something reasonably similar.

The solution to our financial problems doesn't involve reversing Bush economic policies, waiting for the housing market to rebound, or re-regulating Wall Street.

The solution begins the day our elected leaders stop kissing Charlie Colgan's ass. It's time to realize that Colgan couldn't predict a recession if its arrival was signaled by warning lights and sirens. When it comes to guessing the future, the Magic Eight Ball is cheaper and equally accurate.

The next step is always to budget as if there's a recession coming. Because, sooner or later, there always is. If we'd taken that approach in 1999, we'd have had a quarter-billion bucks in the Rainy Day Fund when things went to shit in 2001.

Speaking of the fund, it's too small to see us through a modern-day economic downturn. We need to start putting away serious cash. A billion dollars isn't too serious for me.

Never listen to anybody at the Department of Health and Human Services when they predict how much their programs will cost. They're right about as often as Colgan. If it doesn't look as if there'll be enough money down the road to cover at least twice what they claim, kill the program now, before it kills us later.

Remember that most emergencies aren't. Reject all requests for funds that are allegedly urgently needed, unless it can be shown conclusively that somebody will die. If the victim is an economist, reject the request anyway.

Stop delaying tax reform. Baldacci has proposed cutting the income tax at least four times in the last seven years without ever actually doing it. Legislators have studied expanding the sales tax for so long they should have doctorates by now. Quit stalling. Show some balls.

Would that correct what's wrong with Augusta?

Of course not. Since when does a sensible fiscal policy deflate egos, repair character flaws, limit ambition, deter partisanship, and repel idiots?

But at least we'd have some new crockery for the same old shit.

Al Diamon writes the column "Politics & Other Mistakes." His e-mail address is aldiamon@herniahill.net.

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