Maine has the lowest violent crime rate in the country, is blessed with a landscape and culture that are exquisite, and is ranked as the 17th best run state in the country. Jobless claims are the lowest since 2008, and the stock market is predicted to rise 11% next year. Spring is around the corner. So why is our Governor trying to scare the bejeezus out of us?
Because fear makes people think, act and vote irrationally. The massive U.S.A. Patriot Act was passed by Congress six weeks after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, just hours after it was printed and before it was read by lawmakers because the country and the country’s leaders were afraid. Blatant violations of constitutional rights and civil liberties were offered up in the name of security.
Governor LePage gave his budget address on Thursday, and his message to the people of Maine is that we should be afraid. He said Maine’s economic security is very fragile, our debt is crushing, and that past management of the state’s finances has led us to the brink of disaster.
If it were true, a near-bankrupt state would be a very scary proposition. But it's not.
The Governor gets his facts about Maine’s fiscal health from the Maine Heritage Policy Center, a conservative ideological think tank that regularly sounds the alarm to drum up contributions. Every conclusion of every report is the same: government is failing and we are in crisis. And please send a check.
Recently for instance the MHPC read a report prepared by the State’s watchdog organization (OPEGA), put its ideological spin on the facts, and proclaimed to have “discovered” that salaries paid at the Turnpike Authority are excessive. This MHPC “report” (a power point presentation with misleading graphs) was described as a “distorted view” that “confuses and clouds the issue” by policy expert Sam Pizigatti from the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington.
Those familiar with the MHPC clarion call are conditioned to take every so-called “report” with a grain of salt. Theirs is but one perspective that reflects the extreme right-wing philosophy now called the Tea Party. What’s new and troubling is that the Maine Heritage Policy Center serves as the chief advisor to Governor LePage, and obviously wrote his speech about the budget.
“If we were a private sector company, we would be in bankruptcy,” the Governor said, adding ”we owe twice as much in debt as we expect to collect in General Fund Revenues over the next two years and our debt as a percentage of state GDP is twice the national average.”
This is but another distorted view that confuses and clouds the issue so people will become afraid.
Maine simply does not have inordinate or excessive debt. If it did, we wouldn’t have bond ratings of AA2, AA+, and AA2 from the three leading bond-rating agencies Moody’s, Fitch and Standard and Poor.
Maine’s debt is low, and by all accounts our fiscal house is in order. CNN ranks Maine low among states in its debt ranking, and Maine is graded as the 17th best-managed state in a recent study. The pension “crisis” that the MHPC wants to use to scare people in to rolling back sound regulatory polices is a problem that was created decades ago and was on the path to being resolved until the market crashed. Now that the market is predicted to rise 11% over the next year, we can exhale and continue to march forward towards the new economy employing responsible fiscal policies that will invest in our future and create quality jobs.
In addition to falsely misleading Maine people to believe we are steps away from the brink, the Maine Heritage Policy Center has convinced Governor LePage that borrowing to invest in infrastructure is akin to running up credit card debt. This simplistic analysis is an easy sell to vulnerable people facing their own mounting debt, but it isn’t good policy and it won’t help us. Spending on infrastructure, R. & D., and education has the potential to create more value than it costs and while it’s hard to make a case for investing more when everyone believes we should be spending less, there’s never been a better time. Interest rates are historically low, and borrowing is cheap. Corporations have already realized this and have borrowed half a trillion dollars last year, according to James Surowiecki of The New Yorker.
In other words, if we were a private-sector company, we would be investing in the future.
Ten years after the U.S. Patriot Act was passed we are still paying the price for succumbing to fear-mongering by Dick Cheney and George Bush. Our neighbors are being stopped, searched and held without warrants, and we all face the humiliation of the TSA at airports. Today’s weapon of mass destruction in Maine is fear of financial collapse. We the Real People of Maine must not be tricked in to believing the sky is falling. We must not let ideological think tanks sell our state to outside corporate interests, or pander to an extreme right-wing social agenda. We must not be afraid to move forward.