Maine, you’re not alone. The Associated Press examined the budgets of all 50 states and found the same revenue shortfall, sky-is-falling scenario is occurring coast-to-coast.

For such a diverse country, the state storylines are eerily similar.

Many are cutting low-income health care and other social services, education funding and workers. Common tax and revenue proposals are centered upon cigarettes and alcohol, boosting lottery sales and courting casinos.

Vices to fund virtues, as it were. The AP found few governors proposing tax increases, with those who are facing potent opposition from lawmakers fearful of instilling higher taxes as the nation plummets into recession.

No safety exists in the number of states in the red, because there are no ready solutions. Solace only emerges from saying that Maine’s shortfall could be worse – we have neither the housing boom nor financial industries that flew so high, but are now suffering.

Yet neither is Maine doing well, compared to states rich in natural resources: Alaska and Wyoming for oil and natural gas, for example, or Iowa and Kansas for corn, which are enjoying high demand for conversion into ethanol.

So, short of deforesting the North Woods for cornfields, or strip-mining Mt. Katahdin, the boulevard of Maine’s broken budget runs through Augusta, where the debate becomes refracted.

This creates a multitude of solutions. Whether cuts, tax increases or rainy day funds, about every special interest, think tank, lobbyist and lawmaker has right ideas for the budget, yet this diversity of opinions leads to disconnect.

But the AP’s analysis shows a diversity of ideas, in this diverse nation, isn’t solving the common problems plaguing states. So from a surplus of answers, a cohesive strategy for Maine must emerge. What must it reflect?

1. The recent Market Decisions study stating Mainers are opposed to tax increases.

2. The understanding that today’s cuts can carry future costs. Slashing some services may save today’s budget, but endanger tomorrow’s. Yes, some programs should be saved because they help vulnerable Mainers. But a stronger argument is these same Mainers will require care whether funded or not, and taxpayers will pay regardless.

3. That government has core duties it must provide. The court system, corrections and public safety, schools, roads and bridges and information services are examples. Core service cuts must be viewed with tight scrutiny.

4. That nothing else, beyond these first three principles, is sacred.

By these guidelines a budget framework should emerge. No single approach is right – spending cutters, tax raisers and rainy fund-raiders each hold a piece. The final product should contain portions of their arguments, condensed by compromise. It won’t make everybody – or perhaps anybody – happy.

But look around the nation, Maine. In this, you won’t be alone.


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