Gov. LePage ran on a promise to reform welfare and end a culture of dependency among people who receive state services. If he has a plan to do that, we haven’t seen it.

Instead, the governor proposes to balance the state’s budget with deep cuts in services for Maine’s neediest people.

His latest budget proposal cuts $35 million by ending MaineCare health coverage to childless adults and some parents. Other cuts would make people who receive any federal benefits ineligible for general assistance.

Whether these kinds of adjustments really save money is a matter of debate. While depriving some adults of health insurance makes an impressive line-item budget cut, it could backfire as fiscal policy by sending more people to emergency rooms, which puts a much more expensive tab on hospitals and everyone with health insurance.

And refusing to give a disabled veteran a general assistance check when he’s going through a short-term financial crisis might look like a way to save money — but will taxpayers benefit if he ends up evicted and homeless?

Beyond the shaky financial logic, there’s the question of civic responsibility. Maine is a state whose people are proud of their historic commitment to helping those in need; have we become so obsessed with budget-cutting and limiting the scope of government that we’re willing to slash and burn our way through the social safety net that has long defined our generosity of spirit?

And if generosity isn’t sufficient motivation, what about self-interest? In today’s economy, how many of us are so insulated from financial hardship that we can say with certainty that we will never have to ask the government for help?

These are complicated social policy issues that require a careful balancing act: providing help to the people who really need it without overburdening taxpayers and the economy. But that’s not the process that produced these recommendations. There is no denying that services for the poor consume enormous amounts of public money, which makes them a compelling target when budget cuts are needed. There is likewise no denying that reducing spending for such services can be good politics for politicians looking to score points with conservative voters.

Liberals, of course, react with righteous rage to even modest cuts to social services, so the balancing act is extremely precarious.

The problem with the governor’s proposal is that it appears to lack even a token nod in the direction of balance.

LePage’s predecessor, John Baldacci, faced constant revenue shortfalls during the final years of his administration and he confronted them with budget proposals designed to spread the pain across the entire spectrum of state government.

He asked for reasonable reductions from the Department of Health and Human Services but spoke eloquently and repeatedly of the need to maintain the social safety net in the face of recession.

With Republicans in charge at the State House these days, it’s not in vogue to cite the policies of a former Democratic governor as a benchmark for political courage, but Baldacci’s conscientious determination to protect our neediest citizens while imposing fiscal discipline was worthy of admiration and emulation.

The governor and his budget gurus need to look for savings across the board, even if it means scaling back some of the policy initiatives that were the guiding principles behind his original spending plan. We support the idea of tax cuts to fuel economic growth, but if the tradeoff for preserving essential services for those who need them most is a smaller tax cut, we’ll settle for a smaller tax cut.

Ending long-term dependence on welfare is a worthy goal and we eagerly await the governor’s plan to do that. But we shouldn’t fill a short-term budget gap by denying help to those who need it — and need it now.