Lately, Democratic leadership has been campaigning around the state for what they’re calling an alternative to Gov. LePage’s budget. They’ve labeled it the Opportunity Agenda, and they claim it offers the chance to invest in Maine’s future while providing significant property tax relief.

If it really did that – without raising other taxes or borrowing more money – it might be worth considering. As it is, there are a couple of problems with their approach right off the bat.

The first is that it’s not really a budget. The state budget, you see, is an enormous document, clocking in at well over 200 pages (not counting the transportation budget, a separate document). It’s extremely detailed, covering every department and agency of state government.

By reading it thoroughly, one can see precisely where Gov. LePage hopes to make cuts, where he’d increase spending, and how he’s going to pay for everything – including his proposed tax cuts.

The Democrats, by contrast, are offering no such details. Their proposal is not a comprehensive budget that one can thoroughly examine. Rather, it’s a one-page partisan wish list, largely consisting of increased spending. All together, it’s over $600 million in new spending, and that’s not counting the bonds they want to pass, since their website mysteriously doesn’t give figures for those.

Democrats include $370 million in increased education spending funded by the surcharge on higher incomes, but they don’t explain where the rest of the money comes from. Will they raise taxes, perhaps soaking the rich even more? Will they cut spending elsewhere? Maine, unlike the federal government, cannot simply print money: The state must produce a balanced budget.

Until we know how Democrats plan to pay for their shopping spree, it’s hard to take it seriously.

It’s also problematic for Democrats to trumpet this scheme as major property tax relief. They include in that plan a $64 million increase in municipal revenue sharing and that $370 million increase in education spending, but that’s not really tax relief. If the state gives towns more money to spend, there’s no guarantee that towns will use that money wisely. Rather than offering property tax relief, towns could well just go on another spending spree.

Just as the federal government cannot coax states into cutting taxes by giving them more money, the state cannot do the same to towns.

Of course, this is a common Democratic tactic any time Republicans in Maine propose any kind of tax cuts: Insist that Republicans support tax relief, but make property taxes the priority. Democrats then pivot to demanding more money for cash-strapped towns that can’t possibly cut taxes or spending on their own.

This is a bait-and-switch, allowing a politician to convince voters they support tax cuts when really they want to spend more money – and it’s time we all stop falling for it. If you really think towns need more money, then by all means make that argument, just don’t pretend it’s a tax cut.

The only real, tangible property tax relief in the Democrats’ plan comes from their ideas to increase the homestead exemption and expand the property tax fairness credit. It is through these programs that state lawmakers can do the most to offer property tax relief, and growing them is worthy of consideration, especially with more details. Unfortunately, these proposals constitute less than 7 percent of the Democrats’ total spending package, so they’re hardly the primary focus.

Instead, as usual, the Democrats’ real focus is spending more taxpayer money, not finding a way to give it back.

Maine doesn’t need to keep growing its budget, or simply handing out money to municipalities who may or may not use it wisely.

If revenue sharing is going to be increased, there ought to be a direct tie-in to property tax rates, holding towns responsible for how they use the money.

This could take several forms, including limiting growth in property taxes, actually requiring real decreases or just limiting spending, so towns don’t have any justification for tax hikes.

There is no doubt Mainers need property tax relief, but we also need income tax relief and sales tax relief. Rather than prioritize one over the other, we need a complete, comprehensive reform of Maine’s tax code from top to bottom that results in relief for all taxpayers, from the bottom to the top.

In order to do this, we need to toss the fancy schemes out the window and focus on cutting spending at all levels of government.

Jim Fossel, a conservative activist from Gardiner, worked for Sen. Susan Collins. He can be contacted at:

[email protected]

Twitter: @jimfossel