Opinion

When will the spending stop?

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This Legislature hasn’t even finished their work finalizing a budget yet, and already we are talking about spending more money than we have.

On Tuesday, Gov. Janet Mills announced that she would be pursuing a two-year, $239 million bond package that will be meant to spend money on everything from roads and bridges to startup loans for child care facilities.

In announcing the proposal, Mills said the new spending represented targeted and reasonable investments. “Today my administration is announcing an investment of strategy to expand our economy, diversify our economy and address the most critical challenges facing our state, and to position the state to succeed for the future,” she said.

Contrary to that statement, though, the list of new spending is the usual smorgasbord of check writing to the usual suspects, sold to the public by the usual government double-speak.

About half of the package is for transportation. There has never existed a politician that didn’t claim that we are living in a hellscape of crumbling infrastructure, and that if we only spent more money on transportation, we would have shiny new roads and bridges everywhere, and the problem would be solved. We spend the money, and yet our roads will still have potholes, our bridges will still be old, and the next politician coming down the line will say the same thing about how awful the roads are.

There’s also money in the bonds for state-funded broadband to rural areas. Because likewise there has never existed a politician who has failed to tell us we have North Korean-level internet service, and if we only gave them more money, they’d fix the problem and we could Netflix and chill with no lag.

You think I’m kidding, but listen to Mills herself. “We can no longer be a dial-up state in a 5G nation,” Mills said. “It’s time we opened the state’s doors to future business investments, and this is how we do it.”

There’s no denying that there are challenges in internet service delivery and speed, particularly to rural areas, but a “dial-up state?” Really? According to the latest data, 97.2 percent of Mainers have access to wired broadband 25 mbps or faster and 99.4 percent of Mainers have access to mobile broadband service. BroadbandNow ranks Maine the 17th most connected state in the country.

There is other money being spent, of course: $30 million for the Land for Maine’s Future program, $9 million for workforce training, $5 million for child care.

All of this new spending is debt. This is money we don’t have that is being spent. It will need to be repaid. With interest.

This proposal takes place in the same year that the governor proposed an $8 billion budget that raised spending by more than $800 million over the previous budget.

Spend. Spend. Spend. This is a level so far and away beyond what we have seen in Maine history that it defies understanding.

Mills says that these “investments” — you’ll notice that spending is never spending to a politician, it is an “investment — are needed to attract a better workforce full of younger people.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, young workers that are my age and younger want a good job that pays well, a low cost of living and an interesting place to live full of other people their age.

What can create that? A growing private sector economy that produces middle-class jobs. And how do you get that? You make it easier and less expensive for private-sector investment, and you lower the cost of living for the workers.

None of that is possible with this level of spending. This was a historic opportunity to make Maine truly competitive, and it is being wasted by a spending spree that will hamper this state for a generation, and make it virtually impossible to ever make Maine competitive.

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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