Opinion

A government shutdown is better than budget nonsense

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After dismissing Gov. Paul LePage’s budget out of hand, and failing to arrive — after six months — at anything resembling a real budget framework to replace it, leaders in the Maine Legislature have decided to forego the typical process and rely on an appointed “supercommittee” of members from both houses, who will hammer out a final budget.

This is, of course, everyone’s fault, though a substantial amount of it should be placed at the feet of House Speaker Sara Gideon and the Democratic caucus. Gideon knows full well that the 3 percent surtax, which was passed by Maine voters in November, is economic suicide for Maine and that it must be repealed in full.

But Gideon also knows that the surtax is a weapon she can use to extract concessions out of the Republicans. Namely, hundreds of millions of dollars in education funding she can secure for her friends in the teachers union.

Her decision to use horrible public policy as leverage is shameful and disgusting, of course, but it also provided an opening for the lunatic fringe on the activist left to begin pressuring elected Democrats.

So now, the clattering knees of fearful Democrats and Gideon’s own incompetence in negotiating have created an impasse.

Oh, but my rage in this situation isn’t just reserved for the Democrats.

This should never be how budgets are done. Locking six people in a room, giving them a spreadsheet and asking them to horse-trade hundreds of millions of dollars of taxpayer dollars in a completely opaque process that slaps together a final framework in a matter of days is absolutely insane.

Oh yes, it is the governor’s fault. That’s been the line from the Legislature before on budgets. LePage sends a budget that is dead on arrival, which forces the Legislature to do their own, thus setting them up to go down to the wire and put something together with duct tape and Elmer’s Glue.

But that’s nonsense. The governor did his job. If the Legislature doesn’t like his budget, that is certainly their prerogative, though you and I both know that if this budget had been proposed by a future Gov. Susan Collins, it would have passed through almost unanimously and been hailed as a great work in centrist moderation.

If they are going to ignore LePage’s budget at the outset, fine, but plans and deadlines need to be established that get this document done far sooner. Yes, I realize the budget is the most important thing state government does, and I realize it isn’t easy. But it also shouldn’t take six months and bring us to the edge of a government shutdown.

Nonetheless, this is where we are, and as a conservative, it is already clear that the result is going to be repellant to any kind of notion of fiscal restraint.

Senate President Mike Thibodeau is headlining the Republican side of the negotiating table, and he will not be joined by his colleague in the House, Minority Leader Ken Fredette.

Instead, Thibodeau — who on Tuesday, to the detriment of my blood pressure, bragged on Twitter that no matter what happens, the budget will include the largest increase in funding for education in state history — will be joined by arguably the most moderate, pro-government spending voice on the Republican side, Sen. Roger Katz. They’ll be joined by Rep. Tom Winsor, who will assume the position of “most conservative voice in the room.”

On the left, you will have the aforementioned Speaker Gideon, as well as Rep. Aaron Frey and one of the most liberal members of the Maine Senate, Sen. Cathy Breen.

Sound like a group likely to limit government, cut spending or provide some sanity on taxes? I won’t be holding my breath.

And, by the way, do you know how they will be making decisions? Well, the rules of the committee are that two House votes and two Senate votes will be necessary to move things in and out of the budget. That, of course, means that two members of each party, Thibodeau and Katz as well as Gideon and Frey, are building this budget, and everything and everyone else is for show.

Is this how you think budgets should be built? I don’t, and ironically neither do a majority of the members of both houses of the Legislature, which is why the possibility of a government shutdown inches higher by the minute.

And if this is how things are going to be done, then I say shut it down.

Matthew Gagnon of Yarmouth is the chief executive officer of the Maine Heritage Policy Center, a free market policy think tank based in Portland. A Hampden native, he previously served as a senior strategist for the Republican Governors Association in Washington, D.C.

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