I needed to get this column spiffed up, so I headed for the metaphor closet. But that space was so clogged with outdated figures of speech, overused cliches, tired euphemisms and the transcript of Roger Clemens’ last press conference that I couldn’t find a decent pair of puns, let alone a suit of similes, a tuxedo of tropes or a hyperbolic hairshirt.

“This thing needs to be cleaned out,” I said to my wife, “like a digestive tract before a colonoscopy.”

From the mess, my wife extracted a cry of alliterative anguish. She knew the two of us approached housecleaning from positions as different as those of 1st District congressional candidates Dean Scontras, a radical right-wing Republican, and Ethan Strimling, a loony left-wing Democrat. How could we ever find enough common ground to accomplish anything?

My position on clearing the closet was as simple as the Democrats’ Iraq strategy: Pull everything out. Haul it to the dump.

My wife’s approach was more complicated than Rudy Giuliani’s love life. Allusions could be salvaged for vague future uses, while metonymies and synecdoches ought to be recycled. Friends might be able to use some turns of phrase, and if not, they could, in an ironic twist, be left in the exchange shop at the transfer station. Her conceit was that every single item must be examined, reconsidered and eventually restored to its former position in the closet, lest his writership someday finding himself lacking the appropriate antonomasia.

“We believe,” she cried, “we might need our enallage if we someday want to sound pompous.”

Fortunately, we were saved from our own incompetence by the arrival of friends, who offered an intriguing alternative. Rather than rely on us to decide what to throw away and what to keep, our pals would form a special committee composed of four of my wife’s closest acquaintances and four of mine. The members of this group would then choose a ninth person, a neutral stranger, to serve as chairperson. Then, the committee would select 75 percent of the wasted words in our closet to be eliminated. Our household – composed of me, my wife and our three dogs – would vote on whether to accept the committee’s recommendation. No amendments or antitheses would be allowed. In the end, the closet would be cleaned, or we’d have no one to blame but ourselves. And the dogs.

I jest, of course. This entire concept was just a ridiculous way for us to avoid making hard choices. No sane person would consider such an approach, it being more sensible to make the tough calls yourself. Also, the whole thing was unnecessary, because my wife and I have about as much interest in closet cleaning as the Legislature does in budget cutting.

Which brings us, somewhat belatedly, out of this metaphorical miasma and back to the real world. Where we discover that the Legislature’s Committee on Future Maine Prosperity has reached an agreement on a budget-cutting plan that … hmmm, seems sort of familiar.

The committee is calling for the appointment of a special commission of people from outside state government, four appointed by Democrats, four by Republicans and a chairperson chosen by the other eight. This group would be charged with finding $75 million in budget cuts, above and beyond those required to balance the current budget (which will take another $95 million in reductions or new revenues). The commission’s recommendations will then go to the Legislature for a straight up-or-down vote, with no amendments allowed. If approved, savings from the cuts would be used to reduce the top rate of the state income tax (which is so incompetently formulated that it hits workers earning minimum wage) from 8.5 percent to 4.5 percent.

What the Legislature will be saying if it passes this plan is what many voters suspect: It’s incapable of doing its job. Last session, our elected leaders botched tax reform. Since then, they’ve struggled to find $10 million to cover last year’s shortfall. And as they floundered around trying to deal with the pending $95 million deficit, state Senate President Beth Edmonds told them on the opening day of the current session, “we have cut all the fat.” Edmonds has since been making the case for a tax increase, which Maine needs like it needs another ice storm of ’98. Or another news organization boring us with retrospectives of the ice storm of ’98.

I’m all for cutting $75 million out of the budget and reducing income taxes. If this commission can accomplish what legislators couldn’t, I’ll use my tax refund to buy every member a beer. But if the commission makes the hard choices, what do we need the Legislature for? Why not bypass those who are already on record as being opposed to reducing state spending, and send the budget-cutting plan directly to the public for a vote?

We need to make the tough decisions ourselves. That’s no figure of speech. That’s the bottom line.

So’s this.

Well, almost. I still have to remind you to e-mail me at [email protected]


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