AUGUSTA – On June 17, the Maine Sunday Telegram offered the editorial “Our View: Governor should not tie bonds to other cuts.”
The bond process is not as black and white as the Telegram would lead its readers to think. It’s not surprising, however, that editors would prefer to attack Gov. Paul LePage rather than provide information that could educate their audience on how bonds are sold. I believe that it is in the best interest of Mainers to have this information. After all, bonds are loans that taxpayers must pay back — with interest.
When voters authorize borrowing, they are allowing the governor to sell those bonds at a time he or she deems appropriate. The governor then has up to five years to borrow that money. Most projects in Maine will not be affected by this delay in issuance. To hold off on borrowing bonds for two, three, and even four years is not an uncommon decision among Maine’s former governors. As a matter of fact, some of the most recent bonds that have been sold to investors were voted on by Mainers in 2007, 2009 and 2010.
Gov. LePage recently signed a financial order to borrow $55 million to support a number of projects to include state highway restructuring and paving; energy and infrastructure upgrades to all Maine community college campuses; port improvements in Eastport and Searsport; and redevelopment at Brunswick Naval Air Station.
Although the governor signed the financial order permitting this $55 million to be borrowed, this borrowing was authorized by a prior governor, legislatures and voters in previous years. The governor’s endorsement of these bonds helped to pay for these projects, many of which had already been started. To imply Gov. LePage is defying the will of the people is an egregious overstatement.
While there is an additional $40 million in bonds to be sold, the administration feels characterizing the governor as holding these bonds “hostage” is a political play on words that MaineToday Media Inc. is trying to sell its readers. The truth is bonds are often sold in increments. In other words, authorized projects often take years and can be part of multiple bond sales. What Gov. LePage has said quite simply is Maine cannot afford more debt at this time. Furthermore, he encourages these projects to move forward if the cash can be found within an agency, department or quasi-state institution.
Gov. LePage is doing exactly what he was elected to do: introducing economic reforms this state so desperately needs to get back on track. Both S&P and Moody’s credit rating agencies have clearly indicated that Maine should address its unaffordable welfare programs, specifically MaineCare, in order to maintain its solid credit rating.
In 2009, Maine’s per capita Medicaid cost was $1,895 per person, versus the national average of $1,187. Maine’s spending on welfare programs increased by $1 billion during the past decade.
Under former Gov. Angus King’s watch, Maine’s safety net expanded exponentially to include people who were not elderly, disabled or children. The original intent of the safety net — to help those who are truly needy — has been lost. With less federal funding being funneled to Maine today to pay for these programs, taxpayers are expected to pay a much larger portion of the bill than in previous years.
It is difficult for some to accept the changes that the governor is implementing because in administrations past, wanton spending was the status quo. However, the most recently enacted budget is about setting priorities and making structural changes that protect the safety net for Maine’s most vulnerable.
The decision to reduce funding must be made to sustain a level of service within the resources that are currently available. We must live within our means.
As for the governor’s alleged “war on reducing support for people in need,” the editorial fails to mention that although he is working to rein in the government’s unsustainable spending on its welfare programs, he is at the same time helping to implement policies that will spur job creation.
By focusing on investments in work force training and education and promoting the private sector, he is not cutting support. Rather, he is reducing the number of people in need.
Gov. LePage is not a polished politician or politically correct, nor does he intend to be. However, he is doing something rare among politicians: He is challenging the status quo.
Adrienne A. Bennett is director of communications and press secretary for
Gov. Paul LePage.