With the Appropriations Committee recently voting out a divided report on the state budget, the possibility of a government shutdown is looming increasingly large in Augusta. Along with that, calls for both sides to compromise have become increasingly common in the press.

Those who are resisting the urge to compromise and settle for yet another do-nothing budget are being derided as extremists, who are unwilling to negotiate in good faith. Of course, that’s easy to do when you’re sitting on the sidelines — or when you have a feeling that your beliefs are going to win out in the end. The truth, though, is much more complicated.

Compromise is, to be sure, not a dirty word. Life is full of compromises, and governing — especially in a democracy — is no exception. Nobody will ever get everything they want, and in a government as closely divided as Augusta is these days, brinksmanship and tough negotiations are to be expected. That’s not only fair, it’s the best outcome for all of us.

That being said, there’s a big difference between compromise and surrender. When you completely agree with the basic premise that the other side is making, but only quibble over exactly how much they get their way, that’s not compromise, that’s surrender. That’s what happens when you refuse to stand up and fight for your own principles, but instead try to mitigate the damage done by the other side.

Unfortunately, there’s been all too much of that in Augusta of late. We’ve seen, time and time again, Republicans cave to Democrats at the last minute in budget negotiations — which is why Gov. Paul LePage was, rightly, unwilling to sign the last budget passed by the Legislature. He was right to veto that poorly-crafted, disappointing budget, as it wasn’t a real compromise where both sides gave up a little and got a little. It’s unfair, though, to say that LePage has been unwilling to comprise when it comes to the budget: he compromised on his very first budget, which required Democratic support to pass even in a Republican Legislature.

Indeed, it was out of those budget negotiations that Emily Cain’s now-infamous quote that her caucus “hates these tax cuts” arose. However, that quote brings back an interesting point in regards to the last budget negotiated by Democrats and Republicans in Augusta: what, if anything, did Democrats have to hate in it? Do they hate that they didn’t get to spend as much money as they wanted? Do they hate that they couldn’t raise the hospitality tax or the sales tax? Do they hate the few nominal tax cuts they had to include?

In contrast, there was plenty for Republicans to hate in the last budget. Scheduled decreases in the hospitality tax and the sales tax didn’t materialize, and the cuts in the income tax weren’t nearly substantial enough to make up for them. There wasn’t real welfare reform included — indeed, there really weren’t major policy reforms in the budget at all in the end.

Republicans have a chance this year to do better. They can fight for real, substantial reforms to education policy, welfare, and taxes in Maine. Rather than increasing education spending by $100 million instead of $300 million, they can fight for real policy changes like a statewide teachers’ contract, or readjusting the funding formula.

Maine deserves to have an honest, open debate about education policy, not one that just revolves around a dollar figure.

Our education system needs substantive, dramatic reforms to reduce costs and refocus spending where it might do the most good. If we do that, we might have a chance to improve education in Maine without raising taxes to throw more money at it. Unfortunately, only one side in Augusta is willing to have that conversation right now, so it’s going nowhere. Instead, Democrats are relying on their tax-and-spend philosophy to fix what’s wrong with education, just as they rely on it for everything else.

House Republicans are unwilling to acquiesce to this position, and they ought to be lauded for that, not condemned. A real compromise budget would include some education reforms in exchange for some increased spending, not some increased spending in exchange for not increasing spending even more. It’s a compromise when both sides give a little to reach a common goal, not when one side gets nothing and the other side doesn’t get everything. That isn’t a compromise, that’s a failure, and it ought to be portrayed as such.

Jim Fossel, a conservative activist from Gardiner, worked for Sen. Susan Collins. He can be contacted at: [email protected]