Politics & Other Mistakes: Breaking bonds

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The great thing about politics in a free (sorta) country is there are so many ways to be wrong.

There’s the QAnon approach, which calls for believing reality is a giant sci-fi novel written by somebody with the literary skills of a rhesus monkey.

There’s the New Age idea that everything would be fine if we just stopped funding the police, gave everybody free money, and banned hamburgers.

There’s the good, old-fashioned brand of stupidity from the likes of Tucker Carlson, Christiane Northrup, and the average rhesus monkey in Congress, spewing disinformation, ranging from ridiculous to downright dangerous.

And then there are Maine legislators, who lapse into wrongness whenever the subject of how to spend the taxpayers’ money comes up.

There’s no vaccine for those first three forms of dopiness, but recent experiments indicate state senators and representatives can be cured of their inability to comprehend simple economic facts by being slapped repeatedly upside the head with a tightly wrapped wad of $100 bills.

Even if that doesn’t work, it’ll be fun to try.

Maine currently has a projected budget surplus of $461 million, plus $1.13 billion in unspent federal funds from the American Rescue Plan. Democratic Gov. Janet Mills proposes using that money on expanded government, including “innovative new ventures,” storage sheds for crops, rhesus monkey breeding facilities, internships, and “business diversity” (only one of those items is false). There’s also money for broadband expansion, infrastructure improvements, and subsidies for health insurance.

Legislative Republicans have their own plan, which calls for cutting income and property taxes and maybe funding a few economic development initiatives such as that broadband thing.

In this nation’s grand tradition, both approaches are mostly wrong.

Instead of frittering away this one-time windfall on programs that will inflate future budgets (as the Dems propose) or squandering it on tax cuts that will leave the state short of cash down the road (as the GOP insists), the parties should be addressing urgent needs while saving money in the long run.

The surplus money should be used to offset borrowing.

Right now, legislators have proposed bond issues (the polite term used to disguise the fact that it really means going into debt) in the neighborhood of $1 billion. That’s without taking into account interest payments, which would add hundreds of millions more to the cost.

Most of those bonding ideas can be rejected because they’re not even close to essential (career development, whatever that means). Others can be tossed aside because they’re irrational (rhesus monkey preserves: we already have the Statehouse for that). After all that foolishness is eliminated, what’s left is the stuff that’s actually vital to the state’s future. Here’s my list:

• $300 million for infrastructure improvements, including roads, bridges, and rail lines.

• $300 million for broadband expansion in rural Maine.

• $300 million to acquire public lands for recreation and preservation through the Land for Maine’s Future program.

That’s way more money for each of these items than either Democrats or Republicans are proposing, but that’s because they’ve got too many other proposals to squander this windfall. These increased amounts would make a real impact in all those areas, rather than just nibbling around the edges like rhesus monkeys at feeding time.

Spending on these projects has wide support in the Legislature, perhaps even enough to win the two-thirds majorities needed to issue bonds. But there’s no need to do any arm twisting to convince undecided legislators to support this borrowing because, as previously noted, the state already has the cash to pay for all this stuff upfront. No interest payments. No impact on future budgets.

The mathematically inclined among you may have noticed that the cost of these three initiatives adds up to a mere $900 million, which leaves almost $600 million of the surplus unspent. That money should go into the state’s “Rainy Day” fund, which currently contains $268 million, a woefully inadequate sum to shield us from whatever unforeseen economic collapse lurks in the murky future.

That’s it. Problems addressed. Money saved. Short-sighted spending averted. Economy stabilized.

The only trouble is it doesn’t address what Americans demand: our constitutional right to be wrong.

Bond with me by emailing [email protected].

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