One of the defining moments of my state Senate career came in 2005. I angered Democratic leadership when I joined Republicans in refusing to support Gov. John Baldacci’s proposed two-year budget because it sold off future lottery revenue to fund the current budget’s bottom line. It basically was mortgaging our future by using a credit card to balance the budget. As any business person knows, using a credit card to pay for overhead starts a spiral that is difficult to reverse. But equally important, the proposal endangered many of the programs I cared about because the one-time money would dry up in the next biennium, and these vital programs would likely be cut.
Opposition to the plan among Democrats built quickly as former Sen. John Nutting of Leeds also refused support (eliminating the possibility of the plan getting through the Senate), and both the Labor and Veterans and Legal Affairs committees voted in bipartisan opposition. Despite leadership taking us to the woodshed and trying to isolate me and others in the press, rank and file Democratic opposition was slowly gathering steam.
As for the Republicans, they went absolutely berserk trying to stop the plan. Not a single Republican came out in support. They wrote editorials slamming the proposal. They held rallies in the state house calling it irresponsible and dangerous. And finally, under the leadership of then-Sen. Peter Mills, Republicans went nuclear and began gathering signatures to repeal the borrowing portion of the budget. Had their people’s veto gone forward and passed, it would have sent the entire state budget out of balance and out of compliance with the Constitution. That’s how far they were willing to go to stop this plan.
Luckily it never came to that because we saw the writing on the wall, pulled the borrowing plan from the budget and replaced it with responsible cuts and revenue increases.
If selling off future revenue to pay for current bills sounds familiar, it should.
It’s identical to Gov. Paul LePage’s recent proposal to pay off future liquor proceeds to balance our budget. The only difference is that Baldacci wanted to use the borrowed money to meet our 55 percent obligation to our schools, whereas LePage wants to use the borrowed money to meet our $200 million obligation to the hospitals.
I am very happy to see that current Democratic leadership appears to have learned from the past and has looked at the governor’s proposal with a very skeptical eye.
Republicans, on the other hand, appear to have lost their fiscal minds. Not only is it a Republican who has proposed the idea, it is a Republican who is sponsoring the legislation!
How can Republicans unanimously oppose mortgaging our future to pay current bills one year and then completely reverse course the next? Is it simply because our guy (Baldacci) proposed it the first time, and their guy (LePage) proposed it the second? Is it because they like what LePage wants to spend it on (hospitals), but they didn’t like what Baldacci wanted to spend it on (education)? In both cases, it sure looks like it.
With apologies to the bard: Hypocrisy, by any other name, still smells.
Posted by Ethan Strimling