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The Universal Notebook: TABOR II is not Maine's heritage

Opinion

The Universal Notebook: TABOR II is not Maine's heritage

If you ever wondered why the Maine Heritage Policy Center has so little credibility in Maine, you should take a gander at its 2009 "Maine Piglet Book," a document that purports to find $2 billion worth of wasteful spending in state government. Piglet: pork, get it?

To begin with, if an organization truly wanted to make a good faith effort to identify possible cuts and savings in state spending, it wouldn't call its report the "Maine Piglet Book." You know just by the title exactly what MHPC is – an conservative ideological wrecking crew bent on reducing taxes at any cost.

That's too bad, because there is some truth to the wasteful spending they detail in their 38-page hit list. No one is going to pay the slightest bit of attention, however, to an organization that complains that "Maine Supreme Court Chief Justice Leigh Saufley took home $140,624 in 2008 and her six counterparts took home $121,609 each that same year."

So, how much do the bean counters at MHPC think the state's chief justice should make? How much do they think top attorneys in Maine earn? As far as they're concerned anyone who makes more than the governor ($70,000) is a pig at the public trough.

MHPC is obsessed with the wages of state employees, $435 million of their $2 billion in wasteful spending being what they see as too many state employees being paid way too much. To this end, MHPC posts the wages of state employees at MaineOpenGov.org. This cynical online attempt to embarrass and intimidate public employees is yet another reason why no one in authority pays much attention to anything MHPC does.

After squealing about the state's "Human Resources Mismanagement," "Government-Run Health Care Boondoggle" (Dirigo Health), "Welfare for Politicians" (publicly funded candidates), and the $102,000 the Maine Turnpike Authority spent for William Wegman's Weimaraner rest stop murals, MHPC makes its pitch for its Taxpayer Bill of Rights.

"Finally," the "Maine Piglet Book" concludes, "Maine should adopt the Taxpayer Bill of Rights (TABOR), which limits spending to the rate of inflation plus population, and requires voter approval to exceed that limit, as well as to pass a new tax or tax increase. With TABOR in place, politicians will no longer be able to treat taxpayers like their own personal ATM machines, and will not be able to spend as much money as they want on their various pet projects."

TABOR II, Question 4 on the Nov. 3 ballot, is MHPC's own pet project. While it bills itself as "a research and educational organization," MHPC is primarily a political action committee. You'd think that the Maine Ethics Commission could figure that out and require MHPC to divulge where its financial support comes from.

Fortunately for all of us, TABOR II has little support outside of MHPC circles and little chance of passing. Even the board of the Maine State Chamber of Commerce, one of the few mainstream organizations that might have supported TABOR II, was "unable to reach a consensus" on the measure.

A Portland Regional Chamber of Commerce poll found that 52 percent of responding members were opposed to TABOR II, 40 percent for and 8 percent undecided. The Portland chamber's policy committee was much clearer in its position on TABOR II, calling it "a simplistic formula governing complex fiscal decision-making" and voting 14-2 to oppose it, even though former MHPC Executive Director Bill Becker is a member of the policy committee.

In an Oct. 7 joint meeting of the Portland Regional Chamber's regional boards, however, the local chamber voted to support TABOR II, as it did TABOR in 2006. Shame on them.

The Maine State Chamber of Commerce rightly withheld its support from TABOR II because of concerns about how mandatory spending caps might impact funding for tourism and transportation infrastructure. It might also have added public education, health and human services, and just about anything else state government provides.

Which, ultimately, gets us back to why the Maine Heritage Policy Center – and the Portland Regional Chamber, for that matter – doesn't enjoy more legitimacy. It only cares about cutting taxes. It doesn't care about the impact of those cuts on people, programs and services. And that, folks, simply is not Maine's heritage.