Curtailment is response to frail economy

Gov. Paul LePage made formal his budget curtailment plan Thursday and — predictably — there were widespread expressions of horror that he could be so financially heartless.

Why the surprise?

LePage has been warning that this was going to happen for months. We even knew well in advance the exact dollar amount that has to be trimmed by the end of the fiscal year: $35.5 million. What we didn’t know was how the curtailment plan would be parsed across state government programs, but we knew it was going to be painful.

When the details were released, the criticism was immediate.

The departments that will bear the brunt of the cuts are the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Education, respectively. Given that Maine spends more money to fund these departments than just about anything else, there’s no great mystery to why they receive the greatest cuts. That’s where the most money goes.

Will it hurt? Absolutely.

But, since LePage doesn’t have the option of printing money in the State House, the cuts have to be made to balance the budget — a constitutional requirement that he is mandated to meet. There is no glee in doing so, but it must be done.

Lois Kilby-Chesley, president of the Maine Education Association, issued a statement Thursday after LePage made the curtailment order formal, saying that his decision to cut $12.6 million from schools “is shortsighted and forces communities to balance the budget on the backs of our students.”

And what about their parents who have been hauling around high tax rates to the point of exhaustion? Would it be better to increase that burden and diminish family resources?

“The question remains,” Kilby-Chesley said, “how are our students supposed to succeed when the governor continues to take from our public schools?”

There is no easy answer, but we must look reality straight in the face.

Maine’s revenue is below projections because of a straggling economy. There is no expectation that revenues will suddenly rocket upward in the new year, and legislators are committed to controlling taxes, so the only option left is to cut spending. Had the Legislature not already done some cutting, we might be looking at an even greater and more painful budget shortfall.

Making the situation more dire is that even with the $13.4 million cut to DHHS, that department is still looking at a $100 million shortfall by June 30 that will require adoption of a supplemental budget.

It’s worth noting that in 2008, then-Gov. John Baldacci cut state aid to schools by $28 million through curtailment, and cut another $38 million the same way the following year, so the order signed by LePage — while painful — is a lesser cut than that imposed by the previous administration and cannot fairly be characterized as LePage targeting schools.

He is in the same bind as previous governors, and is using the same tool to repair the budget and meet a constitutional requirement.

Legislative leaders have called the Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee back to work early to begin reviewing the curtailment order, and they will begin that work Friday. The full Legislature will not convene until Jan. 8 — the following Tuesday — but starting early gives Appropriations members a head start on what is going to be a series of tough decisions.

LePage’s curtailment order is temporary and can either be supported or changed by the Legislature.

In the weeks leading up to his decision to sign the curtailment order, LePage sought advice from department commissioners and reached out to legislative leaders from both parties for input, which is a promising start to bipartisan agreement as we face a short timeline to adjust the budget.

“We need to get to work early to ensure our budget is balanced in a fair and reasonable way,” incoming House Speaker Mark Eves said, which is what taxpayers expect and need.

While Maine’s budget dilemma might be considered small when compared to the looming federal fiscal cliff, it’s a very real crisis that needs decisive, reasoned — and immediate — action.

What we don’t need is accusations, criticisms, political posturing and finger-pointing. That, as Congress consistently proves day after day, doesn’t solve a thing.

jmeyer@sunjournal.com

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Comments

MARK GRAVE's picture

Kudos to Governor LePage!

Kudos to Governor LePage!

Amedeo Lauria's picture

Ms. Meyer your analysis is right on...

glad to see someone lay it out so clearly.

Your last paragraph is something that responsible conservative taxpayers have been saying and is falling on apparently deaf ears.

We need responsible representatives who can prioritize our needs and hold things steady until the next budget cycle.

Hopefully some of them will buy that product you see advertised that cleans out the wax and water...so they can hear more clearly.

Standby for the usual press releases and letters to the editor attacking the Governor's efforts to balance the budget given the sluggish economy.

I have to check; is our debt clock still running backwards after the last election? It was nice while it lasted.

PAUL ST JEAN's picture

Great editorial, Judy. Well

Great editorial, Judy. Well done.

CLAIRE GAMACHE's picture

Two sides of the coin

Whenever the state runs out of money all you hear about is how we all have to do without and the schools don't need all those fancy programs. Why is it the subject of stimulating the local economy to generate more revenue never comes up. In the fact generating revenue for the state by stimulating the economy seems to be considered a bad thing. Maine is sinking further into recession but most of the other states are not. I realize we have impediments such as our location, and our rural/urban situation with half the state subsidizing the other half, but cutting money for schools and health care doesn't seem visionary to me. Neither does putting the cost of government on the middle income earners while giving a pass to the higher earners. Sometimes when your income is insufficient it is wise to invest in training or education or a move to get a better job rather than to go live in a cardboard box.

MARK GRAVE's picture

Perhaps you have not yet

Perhaps you have not yet realized the size and cost of government is greater than the “wealthy” can carry; therefore, it is inevitable that the middle class has to pay. That said, if the middle class wants stuff from the government, the people need to pay for the stuff it consumes. There is no free lunch.

“Sometimes when your income is insufficient it is wise to invest in training or education or a move to get a better job rather than to go live in a cardboard box.”

Perhaps a concept better managed and executed at the individual level. Anyone who thinks they can make a good living on a simple high school education has already failed. If you have a job, you cannot assume that you’ll have the job 5 or 10 years from now, so you should start saving for retraining today. Why must we always look to government for common sense? In fact, looking to government for commence itself lacks common sense.

PAUL ST JEAN's picture

The two departments that cost

The two departments that cost the most get cut the most. Why is that unfair? Did Baldacci attempt to stimulate the economy rather than cut? No; he cut.

MARK GRAVE's picture

Should not reciprocity apply?

Should not reciprocity apply? That is, if those who make the most are taxed the most, then those state departments the have the biggest budgets should get cut the most during curtailment.

CLAIRE GAMACHE's picture

There are choices

I'm not saying there will not have to be cuts. The abysmal stagnation in our economic state obviously demands it. I take issue, however, with a governor who is way too willing to listen to the wisdom of the Koch brothers and Forbes Magazine when it comes to how to change that. The citizens of the state of Maine have voted more than once for stimulus by voting to fund bonds. The governor has decided we are too stupid to know what is good for us so he sits on that money and the economy in places like Brunswick, Rumford and Norway etc. stagnates. As far as I'm concerned much of our economic woes are self-inflicted by people who care more about ideology than our communities.

PAUL ST JEAN's picture

Then, you would concede that

Then, you would concede that the self-infliction comes from both sides of the aisle?

Robert McQueeney's picture

Mr Lepage

Mr Lepage is constitutionally required to balance the budget, according to this article. He has done what he is required to do. How many politicians would just try yo wriggle their way out of it and appease their constituents? Just looking at the balance sheet, it's not like the cuts didn't need to be made, they did. I have a great deal of respect for this man for doing this.

Now, as far as the cuts hurting and what to do about them. How about everybody tightening their belt a little bit. That is exactly what I am doing in my own personal economy. I am not going to just run up debt on my credit card. I am going without. I am not going to other people and demanding they give me things. I am taking care of myself and living within my budget, tight as things are.

I know schools are taking the brunt of the cuts, as is the DHS. At the schools, this is not a period of prosperity. We can not fund Cadillac programs. How about a solid ordinary education. It'll be up to the local school boards and populations to figure out where and how they will educate our children. It may well drive up local taxes, or if towns are smart, they'll cut back. Some where, and live within their means. Hopefully, those who actually pay the taxes will be able to have a say in what they are going to pay for.

Folks, let's all look at our (local town) budgets and learn to live within them. That is a legacy worth leaving for our children.

PAUL ST JEAN's picture

You want to see the @#$%

You want to see the @#$% really hit the fan? Suggest cutting out the High School football and hockey programs.

RONALD RIML's picture

That hasn't yet been suggested???

Then someone is criminally negligent.

PAUL ST JEAN's picture

obama will be sporting a

obama will be sporting a "romney for president" bumper sticker on his limo before that ever happens, particularly in places like Portland, Lewiston, Auburn, Yarmouth, Oxford Hills....
Screw the education; we need our football and hockey.

RONALD RIML's picture

Gives 'em their Moments of Glory

Before they're unemployed Bums.....

MARK GRAVE's picture

Just think of it as advanced

Just think of it as advanced placement. Cut football and promote directly to bum.

RONALD RIML's picture

Then you can move out of state

Post as 'mgr' - and pontificate endlessly on Podunkville Web Forums.......

Steve  Dosh's picture

Curtailment is response to frail economy

all , 12 .30.12 21:00
. .i dunno ' . It still strikes us that , " he is in the same bind as previous governors, and is using the same tool to repair the budget and meet a constitutional requirement."
Why can't some bright someone in ME come up with a better solution ? We all already know that your Hon Gov. is not the sharpest blade in the shed
W. Edwards Deming ( http://deming.org/index.cfm?content=66 ) once said , ( and i am paraphrasing here ) , that , " the definition of insanity is trying the same thing over and over again , expecting a different result ."
Therefore , " It was good enough for the previous democratic administration so it's good enough for us ," eh ? " Good enough for government work , " doesn't cut it in the 21st century , Hon Gov . You are still cutting off your nose depite your face and had months to devise a better solution , according to this article . Cutting health and education is draining the vitality out of your state's future . Good luck with your lacklustre and unimaginative efforts during this , your own self - made ME fiscal cliff •  /s Steve Dosh

PAUL ST JEAN's picture

"Why can't some bright

"Why can't some bright someone in ME come up with a better solution?"
The same old same old is always good enough when the democrats do it,but when a republican employs the same strategy, then we need new and brighter thinking. Have I got it right, Steve?
Explain to us why the same old crap is o.k. for dems to hand out, but it is not as acceptable for a republican to do the same.
Your insanity analogy is as washed up as your "right to arm bears".

MARK GRAVE's picture

Paul, Paul, Paul, Don’t

Paul, Paul, Paul,

Don’t forget democrats think with their feelings, not their heads.

PAUL ST JEAN's picture

Yes, they have dangerously

Yes, they have dangerously high opinions of their opinions; and, they think (oxymoron) they can believe their ways out of things they behaved themselves into.

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