I recently brought attention to the use of public funds for travel to Washington, D.C., by Maine Attorney General William Schneider.
Schneider was one of several Mainers who attended the U.S. Supreme Court’s hearings on the Affordable Care Act, but the only Mainer who used state government funds to subsidize his expenses.
In the editorial April 1, “The politics of rancor and foolishness,” the Sun Journal agreed that I “made a good point about travel on the public dime” but missed the key point in the criticism concerning Schneider’s trip.
Taking great pains to suggest that he only used money from the attorney general’s “settlement account,” Schneider implied that these funds are not taxpayer dollars. This is a distinction without a difference.
Those dollars were acquired with state resources, including staff time paid for by Maine taxpayers. In the words of William Weld, a former Republican governor of Massachusetts: “There is no such thing as government money; there is only taxpayer money.”
The conduct is particularly striking, given the barrage of partisan attacks on the Maine State Housing Authority for travel and lodging reimbursements. It is more than clear that no government money should be wasted by Democrats, Republicans or independents. This should always be true but, in particular, during tough economic times.
As state budgets continue to cut services vital to ordinary Mainers, strip health insurance for those in need, and force layoffs to hardworking people, public officials must employ more fiscal restraint. Middle-class families make tough choices in their own household spending and we should expect nothing less from those serving in government.
In this case, the attorney general admits that he was not needed in Washington. He was not there to present arguments. No parties were relying on his legal research or analysis. Schneider was there merely to watch and do media interviews. As a result, we may conclude that his trip was largely symbolic and political. Therefore, it does not pass the straight-face test to justify the use of government money.
It bears mention that Schneider and I are both candidates for the United States Senate. We disagree on the Affordable Care Act and perhaps on health care issues generally. Political discussion and debate is essential to democracy — but does not call for taxpayer subsidy. I applauded Sen. Margaret Craven, my campaign treasurer, for going to Washington to support health care reform. Her trip involved the use of no public funds.
When, as now, resources are short, it is particularly important for those in positions of public trust — including candidates for high office — to abide by basic principles with respect to the use of public money.
Rep. Jon Hinck, D-Portland