Saturday, May 25, 2013
Members of the new Legislature took their oaths in December, but their work didn't really start until Friday, when Gov. Paul LePage delivered his two-year budget proposal.
In it he calls for eliminating municipal revenue sharing, shifting $200 million onto property taxpayers in cities and towns. He also calls for deep cuts to health and human service programs, including eliminating the state's prescription drugs for the elderly assistance.
And he proposes flat funding education, which would amount to cuts in most districts. School districts, in turn, would have to make up for inflationary increases with program elimination.
It's not all bad news, however. The governor does not touch about $400 million in tax cuts passed by the last Legislature but which don't go into effect until the next fiscal year.
Although the tax cuts are broad-based, those at the top of the wage scale will have the greatest benefit, while low-income and middle-class Mainers will more than pay for any tax cut they get in the form of higher property tax bills and program cuts.
Last November, the voters made certain that a budget like this would be dead on arrival. LePage is still the most powerful person in Maine government, but, without control of either the House or Senate, he has no chance of passing an initiative like this. His budget just gets the process rolling.
Now it's up to the members of the Legislature to decide how to proceed. The initial response from legislative Republicans was not very encouraging. Their leaders acted as if we had not just gone through an election in which their tax policy was a major talking point for both sides, and the Republicans lost.
"This budget gives us a blueprint for a right-sized government," said House Republican Leader Rep. Ken Fredette, R-Newport. "It sets us in the right direction by keeping the tax burden on Maine families low, while paying our bills and reforming our overly generous welfare system."
In the weeks ahead, members of the Appropriations Committee will come to terms with the question of with whom is the state government overly generous -- the elderly who can't afford medication or the wealthy who will see a couple of points shaved off their tax rate.
Since state law requires a budget with two-thirds support -- with or without the governor's signature -- lawmakers will have to cross party lines and compromise over a budget. What they end up with probably won't exactly match the kind of priorities either party ran on.
One thing, however, is certain: A budget that comes out of this Legislature shouldn't look anything like what the governor submitted Friday.