Something borrowed, something blue

Politics and Other Mistakes
By AL DIAMON  |  October 16, 2014

Want to save the taxpayers of Maine over $60 million? It’s so simple even somebody with no political skills at all can do it.

Although, come to think of it, Paul LePage, Eliot Cutler, and Mike Michaud all have no political skills, and they can’t manage it.

On Election Day in November, you’ll be asked to decide the fate of six bond issues totaling $50 million—plus another $11 million in interest payments. If you vote against all of them, we’ll never have to pay back that money. Instead, we could use the extra cash to lower taxes. Or expand healthcare. Or we could build a big bonfire and burn it.

Depending on your ideological bias, one of those ideas ought to appeal.

My personal preference would be to buy every Mainer of legal drinking age a beer. Although, there might not be enough left over for a decent tip.

Republican Governor LePage, independent would-be-governor Cutler and Democratic gubernatorial hopeful Michaud are all, to varying degrees, fans of bonding to pay for state projects that we otherwise couldn’t afford. LePage claims to be against such borrowing, but he’s done little to rally his fellow members of the GOP to that cause, resulting in some bonds being approved over his veto and others winning approval through his indifference.

Cutler claims to be a fiscal conservative, but he wants to increase the state’s debt to buy a power plant in Bucksport, a proposal that would cost $75 million to $100 million plus interest.

When Michaud was in the Legislature, he regularly cuddled up to bond issues, displaying not a hint of restraint in burdening future generations.

But the governor doesn’t have the final say on this sort of borrowing. That’s up to voters, who are generally every bit as inept as politicians when it comes to managing the state’s debt.

Currently, Maine has nearly $400 million in outstanding bonds. That’s not counting interest, which—as it happens—does count. In addition, another $127 million in borrowing has been authorized, but not yet issued. Although it will be, sooner or later. In 2015 alone, taxpayers will be on the hook for over $77 million in payments to bondholders.

Some of that is certainly for necessary projects, such as roads, bridges, port facilities, and airports, without which we’d have no way to ship the stuff we don’t make here anymore to the places where they no longer want to buy it because they can make it cheaper themselves. Still, we need to maintain a certain amount of infrastructure so the tourists can get around. I have no particular objection to transportation bonds in moderate amounts.

But none of this year’s proposed borrowing schemes is for highways or rail lines. Instead, we have a lot of far less practical proposals.

First up is an $8 million bond to build a new laboratory at the University of Maine to study ticks, fleas, mosquitoes, and other outdoor pests. Some of the money will also be used to promote agricultural and natural-resources-based industries. If this sounds familiar, it’s because voters rejected a similar project in 2012. According to proponents, the public didn’t understand it. According to opponents, voters understood all too well how unnecessary it was. Over the 10-year life of this bond, we’ll have to pay as estimated $1.8 million in interest.

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