All Maine Matters

July 2006



This Month’s Issue
Read November’s Issue of All Maine Matters.


Low Bandwidth - Text Only

Designed by Laisha

The Fleecing of Maine:
Governmental Decay Must Be Arrested
By Reps. David Trahan and Jon McKane

“Governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.” These simple, eloquent words, pulled from our nation’s Declaration of Independence, create the basic principles of our republic. It goes on to state, “That whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the People to alter or abolish it.”

We believe it is time to alter the destructive course that Maine has been following for far too long.

Over the last four weeks, we have described rampant financial mismanagement, countless gimmicks and misleading statements by elected officials that are corroding the people’s trust in state government. We went on to expose the real levels of state spending and taxation, much higher than we have been told. We revealed the truth about the broken promise of property tax relief. These facts should disturb Maine citizens of all political parties and philosophies because their impact hits us all.

The unsettling situation revealed in our series is a direct result of civic and governmental decay. We believe this decay is not terminal and can be reversed. But it will be difficult, requiring members of all political parties, the media and Maine citizens to unite in demanding change.

To start with, the state budget “process” must be more open and inclusive. The budget has descended into little more than late night deal-making sessions where special interests hold sway. It is common practice for the Legislature’s Appropriations Committee, which reviews and reworks the governor’s budget, to meet and work until 5 o’clock in the morning. This is by design. After weeks of public hearings and grueling work sessions, members of the committee meet with leadership to cut deals. Late in the night, dozens of amendments that have never seen public hearing are horse traded. This is done while you sleep. The only non-elected people in attendance are those lobbyists paid to promote their clients’ agendas.

This late-night deal-making allows controversial, unpopular and outright whacky policies to be inserted in the budget. Last spring, a whole raft of such things mysteriously appeared. Sunday hunting, a tax on canoes and kayaks, the primary seatbelt law and the so-called “bird-watching tax” became part of the budget. Thankfully, they were stopped by a firestorm of public criticism. The tax on casual rentals, the 6 percent state employee pay raise and the new “fair share” plan forcing all state employees to pay union dues, were not stopped. The infamous and disgraceful $450 million borrowing plan also came from these late night sessions. That fiasco was stopped only by the threat of a “people’s veto.”
These things would have been laughed out of the Legislature and lampooned in the press if they had been discussed openly. Yet they were secretly bartered into the budget because some “power broker” wanted them in there.

Unfortunately, when one party controls all political power, including the executive office, this situation is aggravated. For example, an alarming trend of the last several years is for the majority party to draft so-called “majority budgets.” This enables one party to cast aside the hard work of debate and compromise and reject any input from the rest of the Legislature. Majority budgets guarantee that nearly half the elected members of the Legislature – and the people they represent – have no voice.
That’s not democracy. That is what leads to bad public policy, high taxes and public cynicism. It is time to return to traditional two-thirds budgets with the full public hearing process.

Because the government makes law, anything it does is seen as legal. But being legal is not always the same as being ethical or acceptable. To devise the best, most honest policies for our state, we need public debate guided by our society’s values.

Maine needs a “truth in budgeting” act. We must open up the budget process to the scrutiny of the entire Legislature. The decision-making power and influence that comes with billions of dollars in the hands of a few people in leadership affects every Maine resident. It’s too important to be left to back room operators. Sunshine is the best disinfectant.

Maine also should become the 34th state to provide televised coverage of legislative sessions, plus the Appropriations Committee’s budget hearings. Taking government to the people, instead of forcing people to come to government, would end many of the bad habits that have eroded public trust. There is currently legislation being considered by the Rules Committee to place cameras in the Legislature. It is vital that this important communication tool be implemented.

Other remedies would include total reform of the state auditor’s office to ensure an impartial evaluation of our state’s financial records. Also, independent performance reviews of Revenue Services, the state controller’s office and the department of administration and financial services would shake up and root out weaknesses, cronyism and institutional inertia.

School administrators and teachers should be urged to renew civic education based on the open and free exchange of ideas. For democracy to survive, we need an informed and engaged population, and that should begin in the schools. Parents in turn must teach that to live our lives free and in a decent society, we all must be involved. True democracy is not a spectator sport.
The press could play an important role through fair and fact-based reporting to keep all politicians honest. Unfortunately, blatant political biases often prevent that from happening. But a neutral press, unafraid of aggressive reporting, could expose governmental malfeasance regardless of who suffers politically. The information in this series was there to be had, for example, but the major media ignored it.

When we, the elected representatives, see slick gimmicks and accounting practices that we believe violate ethics or the principles of democracy, it is our duty to speak out. That is what has compelled us to write these articles; we take no pleasure in doing so. But we could not sit silently and watch the deterioration continue. In the future, the Legislature must exercise its constitutional responsibility of government oversight. It must stop turning a blind eye to what it knows is wrong.

The non-partisan National Conference of State Legislatures reported recently that “the public generally views politicians as corrupt.” That should send shivers down the spine of every civics teacher, news editor and public servant who cares about the survival of our system of government.

As our Founding Fathers wisely stated in the Declaration of Independence, government derives power by the consent of the governed, and when it goes too far, it can be abolished. We’re not at that point yet. But the hour is late.

Rep. David Trahan of Waldoboro is a self-employed logger. Rep. Jon McKane of Newcastle is an electrical contractor.

About Us | Site Map | Privacy Policy | Contact Us | ©2006 All Maine Matters