Most of us will never serve in the Legislature, but now we’ll know how it feels. At least how it feels to be a legislator in the age of Gov. Paul LePage.

A majority of us voted to issue bonds, authorizing borrowing for much-needed infrastructure investments and public land purchases. Before we even got to see them on a ballot, however, those bonds were approved by two-thirds of the members of the House and Senate and signed by the former governor. Approving them was about as close as you can get to a consensus in this contentious time.

In a letter to state agencies that were to use the bonds, however, LePage said, “Not so fast.”

Those bonds could not be issued without his approval, and they were not going to get his approval until “our debts, and more importantly, our spending, are back under control.” He said “adding more of a burden would be fiscally irresponsible.”

The governor is doing what he does best, applying leverage. It’s nothing new — he’s been doing it to the Legislature for the past 18 months, and he usually get what he wants in the end.

In this case, LePage is saying that unless he gets the spending cuts he wants, he will not allow this popularly approved borrowing to go forward.

You want to see energy-saving infrastructure upgrades at university facilities? Redevelopment of the Brunswick Naval Air Station? Seaport and airport improvements?

If you want these things, however, you will have to accept more cuts to safety net programs that LePage doesn’t like. That means fewer people with health insurance, or public health prevention programs or no infrastructure.

The timing of the governor’s announcement could not have been worse.

It came the same day that the Bureau of Economic Analysis, an arm of the U.S. Department of Commerce, reported that Maine was one of only seven states and the only one in New England to see negative growth in 2011. In other words, while the rest of the region was slowly growing out of the recession, Maine was shrinking, putting us even further behind.

The biggest culprit, in the view of these economists, was the loss of the Naval Air Station in Brunswick. It was the only military base closure in New England and it put Maine in the negative column for economic growth.

That’s the same former base that the governor is holding hostage to his single-minded war on reducing support for people in need. And he is threatening to further slow down the economy under the banner of fiscal responsibility.

LePage is speaking to a small but noisy constituency that believes that all debt is wasteful spending.

Even though few businesses would try to succeed without any borrowing to make strategic investments, the governor and his like-minded supporters won’t accept that Maine has a strong credit rating and can borrow at a low rate because it has not overborrowed in the past and it pays back its debts.

The leverage LePage will now try to use puts these worthwhile investments at risk, and does further damage to the state’s political culture.

A consensus has been transformed into a partisan squabble with both sides using bumper sticker talking points as their arguments.

LePage may have the right to do this, but that doesn’t make him right.

Holding responsible strategic investments hostage to the governor’s policy agenda is the wrong way to manage the state’s economy.


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