April 18, 2012

Our View: Line item veto
won't bring program reform

Cutting funds for General Assistance simply shifts costs onto property taxpayers.

Gov. LePage took a shot at the Maine Legislature Monday, calling it the "biggest adult day care" in the state. But it might be the governor who should take a turn in the time-out chair.

click image to enlarge

Gov. Paul LePage has upended the budget process but made little progress toward his policy goal.

2012 File Photo/Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel

LePage was complaining about a supplemental budget that was presented to him last week, which called for cuts to the General Assistance program, but not as big cuts as he had wanted.

LePage proposed slashing the program, which would have resulted in people losing their last resort for help, and taxpayers in the state's biggest cities facing dramatic tax increases. Instead, lawmakers from both parties agreed to trim back the program, cutting benefits across the board, reducing eligibility and reducing the top reimbursement rate from 90 percent to 85 percent.

For the first time ever, LePage used the power of the line-item veto, giving legislators the choice (still unresolved at this writing) of fighting with the governor now or letting his veto stand and facing a shortfall later in the budget year that ends on June 30, 2013.

Either way, it won't give the governor what he says he wants: welfare reform. Refusing to pay the bills is not the same thing as addressing the problem. There still will be people in need, they still will be disproportionately concentrated in service center communities, and shortchanging the program as it currently exists just means that somebody else will have to pick up the difference.

LePage had a chance to affect that kind of change. He could have spent more time with the coalition of mayors who came to Augusta to lobby against his slash and burn proposal, taking into account their needs to protect taxpayers for a sudden cost shift.

Instead, he left his proposal for the Legislature to work through, with some of the most important negotiations taking place while the governor was out of the country, on vacation.

The governor did not get everything he wanted, but rather than accept that result, he has upended the process, getting a lot of attention while achieving little progress toward his policy goal. With behavior like that, the governor is the last person who should be cracking jokes about day- care centers.


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