You hear them every day on talk radio: know-it-alls who never lift a finger themselves but are perfectly willing to tell you what’s wrong with the people who did. They always have a simple answer for the most complicated problems, and since they never do anything, they’re never wrong.
That might make entertaining radio, but it’s no way to run a state government. It is, however, the way Maine’s chief executive decided to handle this year’s budget.
Vetoing the $30 million supplemental budget last week was more than just an expression of disapproval of one bill. Gov. Paul LePage rejected an entire concept of how government should work. He vetoed a bipartisan problem-solving process that balanced competing interests and advanced key policy initiatives, including increasing payment to nursing homes and reducing the lists of people with developmental disabilities who are waiting for services.
The governor did not submit his own supplemental budget this year, and his administration did not engage in the give-and-take negotiations required to assemble a supermajority. Instead, he stood on the sidelines and vetoed the bill, claiming that it was legislators, not him, who wouldn’t make tough choices. But really it was LePage who left the heavy lifting for others.
In his veto message, LePage slammed the waiting list plan, saying it wouldn’t provide help fast enough. He slammed Democratic efforts to expand MaineCare, even though that was not part of this bill. He slammed municipal revenue sharing, which he called “welfare for cities and towns,” preferring his strategy of shifting more of the tax burden from the state to local level.
“This budget sets priorities based on a partisan political agenda, not on the best interest of Mainers,” he wrote in his veto message. That’s quite a statement, considering that the budget was a model of bipartisanship. It received unanimous support from the Appropriations Committee and the Senate and passed the House by a vote of 136-8.
Maine’s electorate sent a divided government to Augusta, but that doesn’t mean that Maine people want gridlock. The kind of hard work and compromise that went into this budget is what most people want from their government.
Heckling the people willing to do that hard work won’t address the problems facing Maine families. The governor had a chance to lead, instead he picked a fight.
Legislators from both parties should not take the bait. When they come back to Augusta on Thursday, they should maintain their bipartisan consensus, override this veto and leave the griping for talk radio.