March 12, 2010

A budget gap to remember -- in 1959


— By . COVER

Kennebec Journal

AUGUSTA — An economy suffering from a recession. A plan to extend the period of unemployment benefits for laid-off workers. A large budget gap.


No, 1959.

Fifty years ago, Maine faced many of the same challenges that it faces today. In his inaugural address, Gov. Clinton Clauson, a Waterville Democrat, outlined the issues, expressed hope for the future and talked about the steps he wanted to take to balance the budget.

Fifty years later, Gov. John Baldacci, a Bangor Democrat, is scheduled to address the state on March 10 during a deep recession. Baldacci delayed the speech for two months to get a better idea of how federal stimulus money will help Maine.

The address on Jan. 8, 1959, was both a budget speech and an inaugural for Clauson, a 63-year-old chiropractor and former Waterville mayor.

Clauson told lawmakers that he was looking forward to working toward a ''brighter tomorrow,'' but wasted no time remarking on the national economy.

''I am well aware that the impact of the national recession upon Maine has been severe and that its effects will not permit us to progress as far in the period immediately ahead as we had hoped,'' he said. ''However, to say that is by no means to imply that we should drop anchor. We should press forward as far as prudently possible.''

Clauson, known to many as ''Doc,'' was not an obvious choice for governor. He was from Iowa, was a poor public speaker, worked for the Internal Revenue Service, and was a chiropractor at a time when the profession was not as popular as it is today, said Don Nicoll, who wrote speeches for Clauson.

The World War I veteran came into office facing a $23 million deficit in the two-year state budget. Revenues were projected at $104.5 million.

Clauson said falling sales taxes meant the state could not afford to fund all of the programs proposed in the budget. He proposed eliminating the state Treasurer's Office and encouraged state departments to consolidate. He proposed to set aside $2 million in a ''salary adjustment fund'' to help increase pay for some state workers.

Clauson was the first Maine governor to be elected to a four-year term, but a heart attack cut his time short, to just 11 months and one day. He died in his sleep in the early morning of Dec. 30.

''He was a healer and he got along with people,'' said Clauson's press secretary, J.E. Byrne, who now lives in Virginia. ''He was a good governor for the time. He only had that one year, so he didn't get a chance to make his mark on the state.''

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