Let’s try to set aside all this anger, profanity, racism, sexism, misinformation and political posturing. In other words, let’s not discuss Paul LePage, governor, self-appointed education commissioner and giant bedbug infestation.
Instead, let’s turn our attention to a matter of significance to every Maine taxpayer, namely how much money state government is wasting in trying to do whatever it is state government is supposed to be doing. Surely, on this topic, we can find common ground, whether we’re conservative, liberal or one of those creeps who panders to every possible special interest (looking at you, Hillary). Because all of us agree there’s pork aplenty in Augusta.
Trouble is, we don’t agree on the definition of pork.
If I hadn’t already banned all mention of LePage, I’d bring up his irrational contempt for the Land For Maine’s Future program, which conserves vital resources, such as wilderness, family farms and working waterfronts. The governor-who-must-not-be-named insists LMF is riddled with corruption, but an investigation by his own henchmen determined it was competently run and effective. I assume LePage is currently hiring new henchmen.
Then there’s last November’s successful referendum increasing the amount of public funding for gubernatorial and legislative candidates. This measure is to be paid for by eliminating $6 million in “low-performing, unaccountable” tax breaks for businesses. Which should be easy, since those programs cost over $300 million a year and produce little in the way of quantifiable public benefit. In 2006, a report from the Office of Program Evaluation and Government Accountability concluded, “Current reporting on economic development programs is inadequate for providing transparency and accountability; for comparing the performance and costs of individual programs; and for understanding the state’s portfolio of [programs] as a whole.”
Since then, nothing has changed, and it’s unlikely this year will see a disruption in the status quo.
While conservatives defend those tax breaks as necessary to keep every company in the state from fleeing to New Hampshire, left-wingers are equally adamant in supporting another type of handout. Numerous studies have shown that taxpayer-funded research and development grants to universities and private enterprises produce about one job for every $100,000 spent. It would probably be more cost effective to buy lottery tickets.
The Maine Heritage Policy Center, a right-wing think tank, recently published its latest edition of the “Maine Piglet Book,” which purports to be a comprehensive listing of government waste, but mostly devolves into a rant against liberals, welfare, state employees, welfare and liberals. The book contains lots of numbers but makes little effort to provide context, such as when it informs us, “Augusta spent what the average Mainer makes in a year in less than two minutes.”
What a fun two minutes that must have been.
It’s also selective in placing blame. “As a result of progressives’ push for more government spending and waste,” the book says, “Maine’s next biannual budget will spend roughly $300 million more than our last budget.” It neglects to mention that LePage’s original spending plan included more than $250 million in new expenditures, or that Republicans overwhelmingly supported the budget.
The center does make some valid points, noting that the $25 million spent on Clean Elections since 2000 has resulted in a Legislature that’s slightly less diverse but no less dominated by longtime pols. The book also highlights the presence of $43 million in “miscellaneous” spending. But rather than delving into where that money goes, it prefers to offer generalities (“Not only are many agencies redundant or unnecessary …”), trivialities (the state spends $51,000 a year on bottled water) and absurdities (because wealthy people have a lower rate of tobacco use than poor people, “revitalizing Maine’s economy by cutting taxes could substantially reduce smoking”).
There’s lots of space devoted to welfare extravagances (asylum seekers soak up $2 million a year in benefits out of $50 million spent – and that doesn’t even count the cost of what LePage calls the “ziki flies” they bring with them) and abuses (court-ordered restitution for welfare fraud averages about $250,000 per year – enough for a five-year supply of bottled water). For some reason, there’s no mention of questionable tax breaks for businesses.
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Waste, it would appear, is in the ideology.
- Published in Politics & Other Mistakes