Gifts of the magi

Who's on the naughty list?
By AL DIAMON  |  December 22, 2009

"Augusta's projections of future revenue are always much too optimistic."

— Republican gubernatorial candidate Bruce Poliquin, blog posting, December 8

"I believe you have to put 110% into doing what is right to be successful."

— Poliquin, blog posting, December 10

OK, so math isn't Poliquin's strong point. And he's a little shaky on consistency. But are those minor flaws enough to convince Santa to leave coal in his stocking?

In his quest for the Blaine House, Poliquin is as energetic as any elf (and about as tall), a quality St. Nick probably appreciates. Besides, Mr. Claus has to conserve his supply of anthracite for those who truly deserve it.

First on that list is Governor John Baldacci and the Legislature's Appropriations Committee, who've been complaining to Capitol News Service that the revised budget they're working on won't reduce spending enough to cover the long-term shortfall in state revenues. They say they're being hamstrung by the state's Consensus Economic Forecasting Commission (motto: Nobody Is Always Wrong — Except Us), which has decided to balance the budget with federal money Congress hasn't gotten around to appropriating yet.

Baldacci and committee co-chairs state Senator Bill Diamond and state Representative Emily Cain have admitted there's no guarantee the feds will come through with any extra cash. But they're all committed to going along with the commission's figures, anyway (even though that group has failed to get it right three times in a row), claiming state law forces them to use those estimates.

That's reindeer dung.

Maine's Constitution requires the budget be balanced, by which it means the state can't spend more than it takes in. There's nothing that says it can't spend less. Immediately reducing the budget by $200 million more than the commission suggested would likely avoid the unpleasant task of making further cuts later next year. Cutting spending by an additional $400 million might actually get the state through the entire recession without any additional whining.

Pelt them with coal pellets, Santa, until they figure that out.

Speaking of cooking the books over a hot bituminous fire, it's that most-wonderful time of the year when complaints surface about the legislative ratings of the Maine Economic Research Institute. MERI (ho, ho, etc.) annually bestows a numerical grade on every state lawmaker, a figure that's often controversial because it's not derived strictly from how legislators voted on economic issues. Instead, the institute bases half the value of its scores on a poll of what its Web site calls "Government Affairs Professionals."

Normal people call them lobbyists. Normal people with a hint of political savvy call them Republican lobbyists.

Every yuletide season, this results in an outcome as predictable as the gift of fruitcake from Aunt Myrtle:

Democrats get low ratings.

Members of the GOP get high numbers.

Santa doesn't use these grades in deciding who's been naughty or nice, and neither should you.

For the past five years, the Maine Department of Health and Human Services has had a Medicaid computer system that didn't work. For all that time, top officials, including Commissioner Brenda Harvey, have issued periodic announcements that the problems would be fixed immediately. They weren't, resulting in millions in unpaid bills, millions more in overpayments, and general chaos.

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  Topics: Talking Politics , U.S. Government, Bill Diamond, Bill Diamond,  More more >
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