Liquored up + lacquered down

Maine's senators need to sober up
By AL DIAMON  |  June 22, 2011

It's possible that every member of the 125th Maine Legislature is dead drunk.

We can't know for sure until all the senators and representatives have been forced to submit to breath tests. But based on their recent behavior ("Touch the tip of your nose with your index finger — no, that's not your nose and that's certainly not your finger"), it seems likely the average member will register a blood-alcohol level well over 0.08 percent, the legal limit for legislating. Some members of the Appropriations Committee could be expected to blow more than 0.20.

I assume those committee members' test results showing they're more pie-eyed than the average lawmaker are the result of binge drinking before unanimously approving a new two-year state budget that contains a gimmick so outrageous, it couldn't have won votes from anyone who wasn't blotto.

Or stupid.

Or a weasel.

Or, come to think of it, all three.

I base this assessment on the Legislature's support for a provision drafted by Republican state Representative Patrick ("Hiccup") Flood of Winthrop, the committee co-chairman. It fills a $20 million gap in the spending plan by assuming the state will soon receive that sum or more from Maine Beverage Co., the operation that holds a 10-year monopoly on wholesaling liquor in Maine. In return for the cash, Maine Beverage would get a contract extension worth many times the paltry amount it paid to get everybody loaded.

To understand why this is a terrible deal for taxpayers, we'll have to travel back in time to the primitive era known as 2003. In that benighted year, Democrat John Baldacci was the newly sworn-in governor, and he faced a billion-dollar budget shortfall. Baldacci's troubles were further complicated by his campaign promise not to follow the standard Dem response to red ink, which is to raise taxes. So, he decided to cover the debt by selling the state's wholesale liquor biz.

Baldacci promised legislators, many of them allegedly sober, that the plan would be "a wash," with the $125 million upfront payment plus annual cash from a revenue-sharing arrangement equaling what the state would have made if it continued to wholesale booze on its own. That this assertion was ridiculous never seemed to occur to anyone, so when it turned out to be a fabrication, there was all kinds of righteous indignation from members of the GOP who claimed they were conned into voting for it.

"They fooled the Legislature," then-House Minority Leader Joe Bruno told the Bangor Daily News in 2004. "They ramrodded that budget through, false assumptions were made, and we didn't have a proper amount of time to review it. I think Maine is suffering for that."

Peter Mills, then a Republican state senator, was quoted in the Bangor paper as saying, "I thought the whole thing made no common sense." A year later, Mills, then harboring gubernatorial ambitions of his own, told the Portland Phoenix, "If I had to pick one reason why this guy [Baldacci] should not be re-elected, that would be it." (See "How Much Will Baldacci's Privatization of the Wholesale Liquor Monopoly Really Cost the Public?" by Lance Tapley, October 7, 2005.)

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