Maine Republican Party Chairman Rick Bennett has said that there are two areas where the members of his party stand “side by side, shoulder to shoulder” – welfare reform and tax cuts.

He did not, however, say they are united behind the person who has led the fight on both issues since 2010.

That’s because Republicans are not “side by side” and “shoulder to shoulder” behind Gov. LePage. He squandered his ability to set the agenda in Augusta this year with a pointless procedural war against lawmakers of both parties. During the last legislative session, he set a record for both vetoes and veto overrides and allowed bills that he and most Republicans hated to become law out of what was either a fit of pique or a stunning lack of understanding of the legislative process.

He is about as likely to get a major reform through the Legislature now as he would be to show up at an AFL-CIO convention.

That’s the context in which Mainers should view Bennett’s announcement last week that the party will campaign for a welfare and tax reform question. The thinking appears to be that the chance to vote against alleged welfare abuse and for elimination of the income tax would give Republicans a reason to turn out and vote for Republican candidates that the party’s chief standard bearer is not giving them.

Party unity is a fine thing, but that’s not what the citizens initiative process is for. This is not a signature drive to give a voice to disenfranchised outsiders: This is a desperate attempt by the party in power to hold on to power, and it should be viewed with skepticism.

The first question that supporters should answer is why this is necessary. Gov. LePage has been in office for five years, and Republicans have had control of at least one house of the Legislature for three of them. For two years, they controlled both houses. No one has been better situated than LePage to reform state government.

The ideas in the proposed referendum are not new. They are not law now because they are not good ideas.

There will be time in the months ahead to analyize the details of this proposal, but everyone should pay special attention to the way it is put together.

Republicans will be gathering signatures on a single bill that has two parts. One would limit who could get public assistance and how they could use the aid; the other would phase out the income tax starting in 2018, LePage’s last year in office.

The packaging suggests that these issues are two sides of the same coin, but they are not. The small-bore welfare “reforms” proposed would not lower the cost of state government enough to justify a massive income tax cut.

A more accurate pairing would have been to ask voters to approve the income tax phaseout, which mostly benefits people with high incomes, in exchange for the higher property and sales taxes that would be necessary to keep schools, hospitals and other vital services running.

That might not get everyone standing “side by side” and “shoulder to shoulder,” but it would be a more accurate picture of what’s ahead if this becomes law.

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