Phil: So, at least we both agree that Sen. Dawn Hill, D-York, chairwoman of the Appropriations Committee, should have allowed Gov. Paul LePage to speak last weekend, correct?
Ethan: Yes. Personality aside, a governor should always be allowed to address a committee. But almost as important, what a missed opportunity to ask him a few pointed questions!
Phil: Good point. People may not realize that committee procedures are such that anyone who testifies must remain in their seat until all committee members have a chance to ask questions. Imagine all the budget questions they could have posed to LePage.
Ethan: Something like this? “Governor, this is Sen. Emily Cain, D-Orono. My understanding is that you have said you would not be willing to raise any taxes to balance this budget. Please reconcile this statement with the fact that your budget raises property taxes on middle class families by eliminating the homestead exemption and raises income taxes on almost everyone by eliminating indexing?”
Phil: Or how about, “Governor, this is Sen. Pat Flood, R-Winthrop. I am sure you often meet with legislators about budget concerns and ideas. Can you tell the committee how they respond when you suggest that municipalities have the power to lower their spending rather than raising property taxes?”
Ethan: “Governor, Rep. Peggy Rotundo, D-Lewiston here. In 2009 you called Gov. John Baldacci’s cuts to revenue sharing ‘bullsh–.’ And you said he was ‘sticking it to the taxpayers.’ If Baldacci’s cuts are ‘sticking it to the taxpayers,’ what are yours doing?”
Phil: “I’m Rep. Tyler Clark, R-Easton. Now that unemployment rates are finally declining, can we be more confident that sales and income tax revenues will increase, enabling us to focus on training workers for unfilled jobs due to lack of skills?”
Ethan: “Governor, Rep. Michael Carey here. You just released a grading system in which every school in the city I represent, Lewiston, received a C, D or F. How does your budget help my schools achieve better results?”
Phil: “Rep. Tom Winsor, R-Norway, here. Welcome, governor. I’ve served off and on here for more than two decades during which time I’ve witnessed how spending builds expectations for government to expand. I’ve seen many bonds that were issued to jump-start the economy fall very short. Share with us how the hospital payment and the community college bonds you pledge to sign will not repeat the past.”
Ethan: “Governor, in my district of Bangor, we have Eastern Maine Community College. I know you are a big believer in providing vocational training to youth. Yet, in your budget, you flat fund community colleges despite the fact that they have been growing at an 8-percent clip annually over the past 10 years. How do we reconcile your belief that vocational education is important when your funding recommendation doesn’t match your words? By the way, this is Democratic Rep. Aaron Frey.”
Phil: “My district is heavily dependent upon tourists and outdoor enthusiasts. I’m Rep. Dennis Keschl, R-Belgrade, and many of my constituents are concerned that raising the meals and lodging tax, along with car rentals, will have a negative impact. Are you willing to state to us today that you will veto a budget that raises taxes on this segment of our economy?”
Ethan: “Governor, Erik Jorgensen, D-Portland, here. If you can believe it, this is my first term as a legislator, and I am honored to be serving on this committee. I have a simple question. Since you are a believer in local control, why didn’t you simply insert in your budget a voter-approved local option sales tax to allow local communities like mine to avoid raising property taxes every time the state cuts our budget?”
Phil: “Rep. Kathleen Chase, R-Wells, here. Great to see you, governor. As you know, I spent many years on the Taxation Committee before I came to this committee. Recently, you proposed eliminating the income tax as a goal for what I hope will be your second term. Two questions, sir, as this is my last term: Why didn’t you propose something like that this year, so I could have helped get it passed, and, second, how do you plan to replace the billion dollars in lost revenue ?”
Ethan: Governor, I’m Rep. Megan Rochelo of Biddeford. The big issue we have is economic development. Yet your budget will suspend tax reimbursements to businesses for a year while we are still recovering economically. How does this help economic development?”
Phil: Well you Democrats only put five Republicans on the committee, so I am out of questions.
Ethan: Well, it looks like I get the last question. “This is Rep. Linda Sanborn, D-Gorham. I am curious. If we are able to vote a bill out of here that is unanimous, and the Legislature passes it with bipartisan support from two-thirds of the members, would you still consider vetoing it?”
Phil: Now that would have been an interesting afternoon. If only Senator Hill had seen the opportunity laid out before her.