Short Relief: A tale of 2 speeches

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Gov. Paul LePage delivered his second inaugural address with a firm and confident voice. Gone was the nervous, “Chief Inspector Dreyfus” laugh that sometimes punctuated his remarks during the campaign.

He took credit for his accomplishments; in particular, for paying off the hospital debt that had been accrued by his predecessors, for beginning to reform welfare, and to transition people to productive jobs.

The governor outlined some bold plans, including plans to restructure Maine’s tax system and right-size its government. He proposed eliminating the income and estate taxes and replacing them with an expanded sales tax suited to a service-oriented economy. He proposed correctly consolidating excessive layers of government . In the case of schools, that is by centralizing the personnel function and teacher’s contracts, and reducing the number of high-paid school administrators.

President Barack Obama is always confident and speaks well. In his State of the Union address, he gave no hint of the setback his party suffered in the midterm election. He took credit for ending the recession, improving the economy, creating jobs, raising wages, insuring more people, freeing the country from the grip of foreign oil and for numerous foreign policy successes.

He argued that those achievements freed him to budget initiatives to help the middle class. He proposed to reform taxes, to impose new fees on business, increase the capital gains tax and the tax on inheritances, and to expand the child tax credit. He proposed free community college tuition, a higher minimum wage, requiring paid sick leave and affordable child-care.

Both the governor and the president said they want to work together with their colleagues in the legislative branches. The president called for better politics, where we debate the issues without demonizing each other. At the same time, he threatened to veto any bill that doesn’t align with his priorities, like the Keystone Pipeline bill, notwithstanding its bipartisan support.

In contrast, the governor’s tax-reform proposal is a variation on plans put forward by Democrats in 2007 and 2009. Those plans reduced the income tax and shifted the burden to the sales tax in an effort to stabilize revenue and export the burden to tourists. I didn’t like the plans. But Democrats seemed to. Then. They enacted the 2009 plan (which the people vetoed in 2010). Now that a Republican governor has taken it up, they seem to have abandoned it.

Neither party is willing to allow the other the opportunity to govern, to implement their policies and let the people judge them in the next election.

But elections don’t resolve anything either. Winners aren’t particularly magnanimous. Losers don’t concede ground. They just rationalize the loss and resume their campaigns. The president loses control of the U.S. Senate and circumvents it by resorting to executive authority. Democrats lose a gubernatorial election and start a campaign to adopt ranked-choice voting for governor. Republicans are just as obstinate.

About the only way anyone gets anything done is in response to a crisis, such as the attacks of 9/11, or the financial crisis of 2008. Even then, change is hard to achieve and the effects of change are hard to evaluate.

Does that mean we have to be resigned to bitter stalemate?

I say start on what we can agree about. Everyone says they want to simplify the tax codes. Do so. Make them more transparent and easier to comply with. Then, hopefully, further points of agreement will emerge. Both the president and the governor see a need to improve our infrastructure. Do it. And create jobs in the process. Maine has too many layers of government. Agree on a way to consolidate some of them. And share the credit.

That’s a speech I’d like to hear.

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Halsey Frank is a Portland resident, attorney and former chairman of the Republican City Committee.

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