Some readers have suggested that last week's column was unfair to outgoing Democratic Governor John Baldacci.
In a lapse of objective journalistic judgment, I unfairly slanted my characterization of the eight years of the Baldacci administration by only mentioning the governor's successes. As a result, I inadvertently created an impression that was both unreasonably positive and insufficiently credible. To make amends for that erroneous portrayal, this week's column deals with the lame-duck chief executive's failures.
(Because of space limitations, I'll also be posting online an additional 15,743,898 pages on this subject.)
Baldacci was elected governor in 2002 based on glorious — but vague — promises. He told Maine Times he was going to "leave Maine better off than where we found it."
Unless getting rid of Maine Times counts, it's difficult to see much improvement.
In announcing his candidacy, Baldacci said he'd turn the state into "a haven of opportunity for every citizen." He pledged improved conditions for those seeking post-secondary education and for those looking for jobs in their chosen fields after graduation. He told the Lewiston Sun Journal that Maine would have tax reform "within the first year of my administration."
Still waiting on all that.
Which is not to say he never fulfilled any of his promises. He said he'd expand Medicaid to cover more children and more health problems, and he did. He just never came up with a workable method of paying for it.
Of course, Baldacci has a ready excuse for his numerous shortcomings: The economy sucked.
While that's true, it still doesn't do much to shift responsibility for the many stupid and shortsighted decisions the governor made in his repeated efforts to balance the budget without reducing either the size or scope of state government. For instance:
He sold off a decade's worth of profits from Maine's wholesale liquor monopoly for a fraction of its value.
He tried to do the same with the state lottery, but was thwarted by the Legislature.
He tried to balance the budget by borrowing $450 million, even though the state Constitution doesn't allow that. Again, the Legislature called a halt to his foolishness.
He caved in to legislative Democrats on his plan to contract out more state services.
He crafted one spending plan after another based on overly optimistic economic forecasts.
He covered shortfalls in those budgets with temporary fixes based on the assumption that a sudden and robust economic turnaround would occur at any moment.
He kept using the same idiots to project trends in state revenues, even though they were consistently wrong.
He repeatedly promised a major reorganization of state government that never happened.
He also kept making fuzzy promises, such as this one from a 2002 article in the Lewiston Sun Journal: "The deficit is an opportunity to get some things done that need to be done."
An opportunity that slipped away, apparently.
Or how about this from a 2006 Associated Press interview: "Continuing to consolidate state services and cracking down on state spending will assure that Maine is fiscally responsible for years to come."
Except for the $850,000 shortfall and bankrupt pension system he's handing off to the next governor.