October 22, 2013

Maine Voices: Legislature’s Democrats failing to make good-faith effort at compromise

The unbalanced budget and the continued push for expanding MaineCare are just business as usual.

By state Rep. Lawrence E. Lockman, R-Amherst

AMHERST — At the risk of treading on the sensibilities of all those who clamor for more bipartisanship at the State House, I have been hard pressed to find any common ground on the big issues that divide Republicans from Democrats. And on those rare occasions when a grand compromise is brokered, it’s often an exercise in putting lipstick on a pig, and only delays the inevitable day of reckoning.

about the author

State Rep. Lawrence E. Lockman, R-Amherst, serves on the Labor, Commerce, Research & Economic Development Committee. He can be contacted at: larrylockman@rivah.net.

Look no further than the state budget that was hammered out in the final days of the legislative session in June. It was praised by the chattering classes as a courageous compromise that spared Mainers the trauma of a state government shutdown. Liberal pundits lavished praise on Republican lawmakers who crossed the aisle to enable majority Democrats to override the governor’s veto of the new two-year budget, which increased sales taxes by 10 percent and taxes on meals and lodging by 14 percent.

We now know that even with these substantial tax hikes, this budget is not balanced. It relies on $70 million in unidentified savings and a one-day $98 million fiscal-year accounting shift. It is cobbled together with duct tape and chewing gum, and everyone at the State House knew we were setting the stage for yet another supplemental stopgap budget just as soon as the Legislature reconvenes in January.

To his credit, Gov. LePage has now publicly washed his hands of the supplemental budget process, leaving that task to the legislators who overrode his veto. They now own this unbalanced budget, and come January they won’t be in a position to spend five months whining about the governor’s proposed budget without a proposal of their own on the table, as they did this year.

On a related budget issue, the yawning chasm between the parties is also on display in the Democrats’ relentless push to add tens of thousands of non-elderly, non-disabled childless adults to Maine’s welfare rolls, based on the promise that it will be funded by free money from Washington. Democrats in the Maine Legislature are oblivious to the fact that the federal government is dead broke, and borrows nearly 40 cents of every dollar it spends.

Congress is engaged in generational theft, borrowing money from our grandchildren so that able-bodied young adults can have totally free medical care (no insurance premiums, no co-pays, no deductibles), while thousands of seriously disabled Maine people languish on waiting lists for Medicaid services because funding is unavailable. These waiting lists are the legacy of eight years of one-party rule under Gov. Baldacci and Democratic majorities in both houses of the Legislature.

Democratic House Speaker Mark Eves has now stooped to questioning the motives of Republicans who raised the issue of the waiting lists during the budget debate this year. The truth is that Republican legislators were calling for action on the waiting lists two years ago.

In any case, Eves is hardly is any position to be casting stones at the Republican Party, given his history working for a company that would reap a huge financial windfall from yet another Medicaid expansion.

The social services nonprofit Sweetser rakes in tens of millions of Medicaid dollars annually. Rep. Eves served until January as business development director for Sweetser while he simultaneously advocated for Medicaid expansion as the lead Democrat on the Health and Human Services Committee.

He’s now reportedly on a leave of absence from Sweetser, but has doubled down on his legislative push to expand the welfare program that would increase the flow of Medicaid dollars to Sweetser. But that’s not a conflict of interest, is it? Nothing to see here, folks, move along ...

It’s fascinating to me how often this pattern plays out. Liberal Democrats love to talk about helping the poor, but their alphabet soup of welfare programs seems to be much more effective at creating permanent high-paying jobs for the liberal ruling class in government agencies, and in the lucrative nonprofit sector.

It’s clear to me, as a freshman legislator, that there’s no way to split the difference between these fundamentally different visions of the role government should play in our lives. Liberals measure their success by the number of people who depend on government to meet their basic needs. Liberal politicians will overload and strain the safety net until it breaks.

Conservatives are committed to preserving the safety net for the truly needy. And we measure our success by the number of people who are liberated from dependence, and learn to seize opportunities to provide for themselves and their families.

— Special to the Press Herald

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