Nuggets from the notebook while waiting to see if Gov. Paul LePage's attempt at zero-based budgeting will fare better than that of former Georgia Gov. Jimmy Carter ...
The concept of zero-based budgeting has been bandied about, in some cases attempted, for decades. ZBB burst into the American nomenclature in 1976 when Carter, a Democrat running for president, espoused the virtues of justifying government program and staffing expenditures each fiscal year rather than basing those spending decisions on the previous year's funding level.
Carter attempted ZBB when he was governor of Georgia. According to a 1977 report by the Government Accounting Office, now the Government Accountability Office, Carter boasted that the practice resulted in a 50 percent reduction in Georgia state government's administrative costs.
Carter vowed to bring the practice to Washington, D.C.
And he did, with mixed results.
President Ronald Reagan, who defeated Carter after the Georgian served one term, tried to continue ZBB. After all, the concept appeals to fiscal conservatives because it's designed to annually identify the purpose and gauge the effectiveness of programs or staffing before paying for them.
But Reagan eventually concluded that the practice was too costly and time consuming, according to historical accounts cited by PolitiFact.
Even before Reagan abandoned the plan, George S. Minmier, an economics professor at the University of Georgia, deemed ZBB efforts at the federal level an "exercise in futility."
And at the state level?
According to testimony in the 1977 GAO report, Carter's success with ZBB in Georgia was overstated. The evaluation process is supposed to start each department's funding level at zero and to justify every dollar for the next budget year. But Carter quickly modified the Georgia's ZBB to start department funding levels at 80 percent from the previous year.
A 1995 report from the nonpartisan National Conference of State Legislatures helps explain why.
According to the report, state programs are not "amenable to such a radical annual re-examination." That's because statutes, obligations to municipal governments and federal requirements create "state funding commitments that are almost impossible to change very much in the short run."
The report cites as example education spending, which in states like Maine is determined by state and federal judicial decisions and provisions within the state constitution. The same applies to Medicaid funding, environmental program spending and even funding for prisons.
The report isn't all negative on ZBB. In fact, it says the fundamentals of the practice can encourage budget scrutiny. But the good news comes with a caveat: "In its classic form — begin all budget evaluations from zero — ZBB is as unworkable as it ever was," the report says.
That may explain why Georgia, which pioneered ZBB under Carter, has remained ambivalent about the budgeting method. The state jettisoned ZBB after Carter left, but in recent years has attempted to bring it back four different times, including this year.
Still, LePage is ready to give ZBB a go here in Maine.
He expects ZBB to go into effect during the supplemental budget process next year when legislators make adjustments to the current two-year, $6.1 billion budget.
The governor also wants ZBB used when commissioners present their proposals for the two-year budget that will be passed by the Legislature in 2013 for fiscal years 2014-15.
Horse hockey she-said, he-said
LePage took some heat for his off-color response to a woman who questioned the merits of the state’s new health insurance law during the governor’s town hall meeting held last Thursday in Presque Isle.
During the exchange, which was recorded by the progressive blog Dirigo Blue, the governor attempted to explain that the new law will lead to cheaper rates. Toward the end of the clip LePage puts down the microphone, but he quickly picks it back up and says, “It’s not a bunch of horseshit, ma’am, I’m sorry.”
The comment has been picked up by LePage’s opponents who say it’s another example of his crude behavior.
However, according to Adrienne Bennett, the LePage spokeswoman who witnessed the exchange, there’s another side to the story.
Bennett said the off-color remark was first made by the woman who was dissatisfied with the governor’s answer.
"He (LePage) was simply repeating what she had said,” Bennett said. “This was the same woman who had repeatedly interrupted him while he tried to answer her question. When he finished she said, ‘That’s horseshit.’"
Bennett added, “We even allowed her to ask another question later. I remember saying to her, jokingly, ‘You’re not going to swear this time, right?’"
The footage in the video appears to support Bennett’s version of the story. After the exchange, Bennett reminds the audience to "be respectful."
Lost in the vortex?
Interesting decision by the governor's office to release the highly anticipated appointments to the Land Use Regulatory Commission at 8:30 Friday evening and during a news cycle dominated by Hurricane Irene.
The commission is expected to review LURC's future as the planning agency for the state's unorganized territories. Many Republicans, including LePage, have called for the abolishment of LURC, which they argue has held up development in rural areas desperate for jobs and economic growth.
That argument was challenged earlier this year when a Maine Superior Court judge ruled that LURC had wrongly sided with the developer of the controversial Plum Creek project when the agency failed to hold public hearings on a rezoning plan.
Still, many Republicans continue to favor abolishing LURC. After much partisan wrangling the Legislature settled on a study commission to see if LURC's duties can be transitioned to the counties, a move that LePage endorses.
Democrats and environmental groups worry that the commission, which was chosen by LePage and Republican leadership, will be stacked so that LURC's fate is sealed.
The governor's comments during his town hall meeting last week in Presque Isle did little to temper those concerns.
"There's a task force that's establishing how it (planning in the UT) is going to work in the future, and I can tell you this: It will not be in the hands of the state," LePage said. "It's going to go back, likely, to the counties."
'Compromise' a dirty word?
More evidence of politicians' obsession with messaging: Last week a Democratic lawmaker involved in the congressional redistricting negotiations hinted to a reporter that bipartisan efforts to reach an agreement should be called a "consensus," not a "compromise."
What's the difference? To everyday folks, probably not much.
But according to some State House insiders, Democrats had been asked by Republicans not to use the word "compromise" during the remapping negotiations. That's because the GOP was wary of Democratic operatives sending press releases claiming that the party had forced Republicans to compromise, phrasing that could make the GOP look weaker than, say, a release that said both parties had reached a "consensus."