Budget Shortfalls — Good News for LePage?

In the wacky world of contemporary Maine politics, one really does need to ask, “Is today’s news of budget shortfalls totaling $135 million (see here and here) actually good news for Paul LePage?”

One would have to be both a conspiracy theorist and a believer in LePage’s intellect to hold that the LePage administration deliberately overestimated revenues in order to create the current revenue shortfall, which — in turn — is about to trigger the process of curtailment, by which the Maine governor can unilaterally determine which areas of state government to cut.

While it may seem unlikely that LePage deliberately created the budget shortfall, it is likely that he relishes it.  All along,  LePage’s goal has been to dramatically reduce the size of the government, and the present budget shortfalls give him a mandate to do just that.

 

LePage Administration in Denial about Climate, Rising Seas

Several recent opinion pieces have pointed out that, when it comes to the issue of climate change, the LePage administration strategy basically amounts to gag it and put it in the back seat.

Most notably, a recent Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting Sun-Journal opinion piece states that  the LePage administration has removed a major climate change report from the state website.  Paul LePage came to office.  Then, poof, it was gone.

For us, there are echoes of the mural here.  If you don’t like something, label it as unfriendly to business.  Then make it disappear.

The  68-page report, three years in the writing, involved  the work of 75 stakeholders, including Hannaford markets, the Maine Audubon Society, the Small Woodland Owners Association of Maine and 13 state agencies.  The report, which makes 60 recommendations, was put up on the state website and presented to the legislature in 2010.

As the subsequent Sun-Journal editorial suggests, the report reflects a significant investment by individuals and groups and has the potential to help facilitate and coordinate the efforts of communities to prepare for the reality of rising sea levels.

Asked about the disappearance of the report, LePage’s DEP Commissioner (and former American Petroleum Institute lobbyist) Patricia Aho stated “We had to make a choice because we had thousands of documents and we needed to reduce our website.”  (More here about how oil-industry interests are fighting the facts on climate change).

The Sun-Journal echoed our thoughts when it stated, “That explanation has bogus written all over it. If computer storage space was so tight, the state could have asked any of a dozen organizations to host the report and linked to it from the state’s site.”

Indeed, the document is already hosted online and it would be simple matter for the LePage administration to link to it.

Not that the size of the document is an actual impediment, of course.  In pdf format, the report is only 260 kb kilobytes or about the size of a single medium resolution photograph.

At AppalledbyLePage, we also work under budgetary and bandwidth restrictions, but we’re willing to help out.  We’d like to announce that we are now hosting a copy of  the report, Adapting to a Changing Climate: Charting Maine’s Course, right here on our own server.

In his own explanation of the removal, Darryl Brown, LePage’s first DEP commissioner was more forthcoming when he stated “We made a conscious decision that (climate change) would take a back seat,”  Brown went on to explain that Maine would be better served by making environmental regulations more friendly to business.

There is nothing business friendly, however, about rising sea levels.  Just ask the folks who took the brunt of superstorm Sandy.

Paul LePage and the Politics of Indifference

Paul LePage “won’t lift a finger,” but we can all still raise our hands.

In his blind and misguided pursuit of a government that “governs least,” Paul “Won’t Lift a Finger” LePage cut funding for smoking cessation services for MaineCare recipients.  That’s the old news.  The new news (yes, there are things to be thankful for) is that a coalition of public health organizations is now lobbying for restoration of these services.

The issue of smoking cessation funding provides a handy case study on the extreme short-sightedness and hypocrisy of the LePage administration.  The LePage slogan,  “People Before Politics,” is exposed as an utter farce when it stands in the daylight of this issue.

The facts of the issue are that every 33 cents Maine spends on smoking cessation also draws an additional $0.66 in federal funding — and, according to a Massachusetts study, over the long term prevents MaineCare recipients from needing $3.00 worth of medical treatment for smoking-related illnesses.

Let’s try that again:  for 33 cents now, Maine can save $3.00 later — and have a healthier citizenry to boot. Sounds good, right?

Apparently, not to Paul LePage, whose pogrom of budget cuts has given Maine the ignominious distinction of being one of only three states that does not pay for smoking cessation medications for  medicaid recipients.

Liberty, personal responsibility, even claims we just don’t have the money . . .  all these sound reasonable as artificial concepts. But when you consider that real people — mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, workers, employees — die from smoking related illnesses each day; when you consider the immense costs of treating smoking-related illnesses; when you consider that it is ultimately us who are paying for these treatments, it becomes clear that providing full funding for smoking cessation is the right thing to do.

LePage Looks to Cross Aisle,
Veers Into Gutter

Maine Schools -- Lots to be proud of.  Lots to improve.If you send your cat into an oven to have her kittens, she’ll give birth to biscuits. Or so Paul LePage would have us believe, based on the convoluted logic he recently used to compare public and private schools. “If you want a good education, go to a private school. If you can’t afford it, tough luck.” the governor stated at a breakfast meeting last Friday. “Private schools are kicking our butts,” he went on to say.

The governor stated that even in the best of Maine’s public high schools, only 60 percent of students are proficient in English and math, and implied that the proficiency rate is higher in private schools because those private schools are superior.

It is LePage’s logic that is deficient, however. Anyone who knows anything about education knows that family income and education level attained by parents are two of the strongest predictors of a child’s educational success. Comparing the achievement levels of public and private school students is unfair and illogical because these two types of schools are worlds apart in terms of the types of students they enroll.

An Education Week article looked at this disparity on a national basis: “On average, private school students come from families with higher incomes than those of public school families, and have parents who have reached a higher level of education than the average parent. ”

Overall, the evidence does not show that the typical underachieving public school student would make academic gains if sent to a typical private school. An extensive Center for Educational Policy study states that when socioeconomic status is taken to account, private school education offers no advantage over that of public schools. The study concludes: “Once the full scope of the family is taken into account, cultural capital as well as economic capital, private school effects disappear.”

LePage probably knows this stuff — or could easily know this stuff if he wanted to. What he wants to do is to drive a wedge between teachers and the local communities that employ them. He knows that his education proposals will be opposed by teachers, so he is criticizing teachers and public schools — and gambling that the general public will take his side.

During the same Friday breakfast speech, LePage described our political system as “vile” and “full of lies.” He stated that he is willing to work across the aisle. He called Democrats “cruel” for their behavior in recent campaigns but said he can work with “honest” Democrats.

If Democrats are honest, however, they will tell the governor that it is wrong and destructive to paint our public schools with so broad a brush. They will point out that his criticisms of public schools are an insult to the students who attend them — as well as to the teachers, administrators, staff, school board members, and volunteers who have give so much of their time to help our schools succeed. They will tell Paul LePage that his negativity is a huge stumbling block — and it’s hard to see that the conversation will go anywhere good from there.

(Cross posted at Dirigoblue.com )

Maine Public Schools —
Lots to Be Proud Of

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We believe that the governor’s careless, denigrating, overgeneralized statements about our public schools do far more harm than good.

Depending on how you look at it, Maine ranks somewhere between 5th and 23rd in the nation in terms of quality of education.  Not as good as we’d like, but not as bad as Paul LePage would have us believe.

What we do know is that the public school system in Maine has many high achieving students, many outstanding teachers, and many excellent schools.  We also know that child poverty is a huge impediment to educational progress.  And — most important of all — we know that a positive attitude and a environment of mutual respect will get us much farther than negativity and derision.

Talking Trash on Schools: LePage Again Throws Public Education Under Bus

Paul LePage has created an uproar with his recent trash-talk about public schools.  “If you want a good education in Maine, go to a private school. If you can’t afford it, tough luck.” the governor stated at a breakfast meeting yesterday.

Any way you you look it it, this is a remarkable statement — the educational equivalent of the chief executive at Ford telling people to go buy a Chevy.

A Bangor Daily News article on LePage’s statements has generated a huge response, with the comment section below the article registering more than 500 comments in less than 24 hours.  The governor is clearly seeking to rile people up — and to create division.  One of our posts on the BDN message board is below:

The lies LePage is telling about our schools are not just normal political lies that rile people up and create pressure for political change.  They are something much worse.  Here’s why.  Many of the underachieving students in our schools come from homes in which education is not valued.  And now, thanks to LePage’s campaign of negativity, education may be valued even less.

We now could have thousands more kids who have another “excuse” not to succeed, not to care, not to invest themselves in their education.  After all, according to the governor, attending a public school is a waste of time.

As for the governor’s claim, it is cowflop.  Private school students by and large come from families that are wealthier, better educated, and who value education.  It is illogical to compare those students with “the average Maine kid” in terms of achievement levels.

Newsflash — Taxes Not Source of All that Ails Us.

A finance website, MoneyRates.com, has rated Maine 49th among the 50 states in terms of places to make a living.  According to the same site, Maine ranks nearly as poorly as a place to retire.  The really interesting part of this study is the finding that even if Maine’s income tax rate could somehow be reduced all the way down to zero percent, the state’s ranking would only climb 7 places to 42nd.

Maine’s geographical location, relatively low average income, and relatively high cost of living are the stated reasons for Maine’s low ranking.

Our takeaway:  the study confirms out belief that LePage is barking up the wrong tree.  Taxes, taxes, taxes.  The governor talks about little else.  Yet, if the above is true, even the most strident tax reforms can play only a very marginal role in the challenge of improving the economic landscape of our state.

Richard Barrington of MoneyRates also states, ” . . . Effort to promote the state regionally for its quality of life and relatively low energy and labor costs might be a better way to improve the economy than a strategy that aims only to lower taxes.”

If the study is correct, LePage should put taxes on the back burner and focus more attention on developing and promoting the positive qualities Maine already possesses — a quality environment and hard-working people.

Word Watch

Contrary to what some would have us believe, adding and subtracting are not the same.

Recent political robocalls received here have included one from the Republican National Committee, urging support for Republicans running for state legislature since  (and I quote) Democrats support “gutting welfare reform.”

Interesting double-switch there as the Republicans have taken something many see as a negative — welfare cuts — and made it a positive by calling it “welfare reform.”   The negative is brought back in with the word, “gutting.”

So the Democrats want to maintain the social services programs that help children, the elderly, the disabled, and the poor?  Doesn’t have the same bite to it, does it?

“Gutting” is a word that is more often used to refer to the actions of conservatives, so it is interesting to see it used against Democrats.

The angry-at-the-feds Paul LePage last week twisted the truth in much the same way, stating that the medicaid cuts he has proposed are necessary to “preserve the program.”  Having wealthy Mainers forgo even a portion of the extra income they now have as a result of the LePage tax cut would be another way to preserve the program — without a reduction in services being provided — but apparently that one is not on the table.

It has not escaped us that Mitt Romney’s number one strategy has been deflecting attention from his own glaring weaknesses by associating Obama with the same weaknesses.   Romney has no plan for the economy.  He has a reputation for flip-flopping on issues.  And, most ironic of all, he spends a lot of air time criticizing the Obama campaign for going negative.

“Go all in, Mitt,” We want to say to him.  Criticize Obama all you want — but don’t waste our time whining about what the opposition is saying and pretending you’re not doing the same thing.