AUGUSTA – As Mainers dig out from the latest snowstorm and the still-lingering Great Recession, scores are living paycheck to paycheck as they struggle with flat wages and the rising cost of both gas and heating oil.
For most of us, economic recovery hasn’t happened, but we’re persevering and trying to look out for each other in hopes of a brighter tomorrow. That is the Maine way, isn’t it?
Not so with Maine House Republican Leader Ken Fredette. Last week, in TV and radio interviews, Fredette raised the prospect of shutting down state government rather than working with Democrats to pass a responsible state budget. Fredette seems determined to make Mainers careen from one manufactured budget crisis to the next.
We all know the governor wants to shift hundreds of millions of dollars of state costs onto Maine communities and property taxpayers, all to pay for new tax breaks, mostly benefiting Maine’s wealthiest residents. Yet with his government shutdown talk, Fredette appears to have dug in his heels in defense of the governor’s proposed state budget.
Fredette told television station WCSH, “There is going to be a real battle on (the next) biennial budget and, quite frankly, a government shutdown is something that’s a possibility.”
Set aside for a moment the fact that the governor’s proposed budget is just plain wrong for Maine. It’s astounding that Fredette is planning to lock thousands of Maine’s public workers out of their jobs and bring to a standstill publicly funded projects and services that Maine people count on.
We’re talking about workers who keep our communities safe, maintain our roads and bridges, protect our public health, run our state parks, remove children from dangerous situations and keep our drinking water clean.
These workers have gone more than four years without a raise. Fredette’s shutdown talk is an insult to them and the services they provide to all Mainers.
We Mainers know we can’t go it alone. Public investments in our roads and bridges, communities, schools and public safety reflect our priorities and our determination to work together to get things done for the good of all of us. We count on our elected leaders to make sure the voters’ priorities are reflected in every decision and vote, both at the State House and in Washington.
In last November’s elections, Mainers sent a message. They are tired of bearing the brunt of the extreme, divisive agenda that Gov. LePage, Fredette and their friends pushed during the 125th legislative session. The Republican rate-hike bill caused insurance premiums to skyrocket on rural Mainers. Hundreds of millions of dollars in new tax breaks mostly benefiting the wealthy were enacted.
Gov. LePage and Fredette now expect everyone else to foot the bill through higher property taxes — even if it means shutting down state government to get it done.
The term “government shutdown” has real meaning. In July 1991, then-Gov. John McKernan and the Maine Republican Party shut down state government for 16 days in a political fight over state protections for injured workers.
Thousands of public workers were locked out of their jobs, without pay. Mainers were denied basic services like registering cars, boats and motorcycles. State inspectors were locked out. State testing of water and food ended. Payments to service providers were halted. Oversight of state contractors stopped. Mainers needing services were turned away.
The 1991 shutdown was also a nightmare because Maine counts on tourism. As millions of Americans went on summer vacations, Maine stood out as a place to avoid.
It’s especially troubling that Fredette started his shutdown talk on the heels of a successful bipartisan conclusion to the state supplemental budget. In passing the supplemental budget, all Maine legislators worked together. That level of cooperation is not something to take lightly. For Fredette to begin orchestrating another state government shutdown is irresponsible at best.
Shutdowns have many consequences, with a long-term consequence of citizens feeling government has failed them. Fredette should know better. Maine people deserve better.
Ginette Rivard of Caribou is president of the Maine State Employees Association, Local 1989 of the Service Employees International Union, representing more than 12,000 Maine workers.