Let’s just say it plainly: Gov. LePage is a dreadful businessman.
Sure, his administration and campaign continually pronounce that the governor is a “turnaround specialist” and CEO-style leader. But despite the political rhetoric and the business suit, the emperor has no clothes.
Last Tuesday, the governor held a news conference blasting the Legislature’s overwhelmingly bipartisan vote to use $21 million from the state’s so-called rainy day fund to restore almost $40 million in revenue sharing to local cities and towns. He called the move “irresponsible” and “shortsighted.”
But what’s shortsighted is the governor’s memory. In 2011, LePage and the then-Republican-led Legislature withdrew $27 million from the rainy day fund because they were desperate to balance a budget blown wide open by $400 million in unfunded tax cuts.
Tax cuts are wonderful. But if you have no way to pay for them and pass them anyway, that’s just fiscal irresponsibility. And that’s exactly what the governor and Legislature did.
Indeed, rather than make the hard fiscal decisions to finance those cuts, LePage simply proposed zeroing out revenue sharing to local cities and towns, effectively balancing the budget on the backs of local communities and asking municipal leaders to clean up his mess.
Precisely how a responsible and talented CEO behaves, right?
Of course, the irony is that LePage’s tax cut gambit was always little more than a fiscal shell game, allowing him to tell taxpayers that’s he’s giving them a tax cut but forcing them to pay for those cuts through reduced municipal services or higher local taxes. For taxpayers, it’s the equivalent of the money coming out of your left pocket or your right.
That’s not how a CEO does business. In fact, it’s the worst type of budget gimmickry that LePage only pretends to despise.
What’s more, it take a special brand of hubris to criticize the Legislature’s use of the rainy day fund to restore municipal revenue sharing after raiding the same fund to finance your own irresponsible tax cuts and simultaneously creating the very mess the Legislature is now attempting to fix.
Of course, LePage could have vetoed the revenue-sharing bill but chose not to because that would’ve required actually assuming responsibility for his own financial house of cards. Instead, he cravenly let the bill go into effect without his signature in an attempt to preserve his “CEO” veneer while actually abdicating his leadership.
After all, this is a governor who won’t even advance a supplemental budget because the Legislature refused to bend to his fiscal will last session. So, for the first time in Maine’s history, our “chief executive” is voluntarily sitting on the sidelines as a new budget deal is crafted.
Because effective CEOs lead by not leading, right?
But what’s worse than Le- Page’s hypocrisy and inaction is his willingness to cut off Maine’s economic nose to spite the Legislature’s face.
After restoring revenue sharing – and despite including a mechanism for replenishing the rainy day fund – LePage decided to punish legislators by withholding $33 million worth of voter-approved revenue bonds.
But let’s be clear, it’s not legislators who will bear the brunt of the governor’s obstinacy. It’s Maine workers already struggling through an anemic economic recovery shepherded by our “CEO” governor.
Countless general contractors, craftsmen, laborers, engineers, equipment operators and others are not only counting on these bond-enabled projects, but they also have made business plans, hiring decisions and investments in anticipation of them. Holding these bonds hostage is just pure bad business.
Why would any chief executive, any leader claiming the mantle of jobs and growth, who purports to put people before politics, punish Maine workers by intentionally idling them?
These workers and businesses are now in a painful, needless economic limbo until the governor’s political whim is satisfied.
And Mainers certainly don’t need another economic roadblock voluntarily thrown in their path. Maine ranks 50th among states in private-sector job growth since 2011, and as other New England states have recovered all of the jobs they lost during the recession, Maine has recovered a meager one-third.
The governor’s leadership is erratic, impulsive, emotional and ideological. It eschews facts, ignores realities and embraces bullying and disparagement over engagement and discussion. His bluster and regular belittling of Maine actually deter business investment and growth.
Perhaps that damning and punitive approach served the governor well through his hardscrabble youth and possibly in a handful of corporate boardrooms. But as Mainers now sorely know, it’s not how an effective chief executive manages this state or any organization that hopes to thrive.
Michael Cuzzi is a former campaign aide to President Obama, Secretary of State John Kerry and former U.S. Rep. Tom Allen. He manages the Portland office for VOX Global, a strategic communications and public affairs firm headquartered in Washington, D.C. He can be contacted at: