Budgets are all about choices, and this year, the choices in Augusta have been especially stark.

Gov. Paul LePage has proposed cutting and selling timber on public land and using the proceeds to help low-income Mainers upgrade their heating systems. Anyone who objects to that plan “doesn’t like poor people,” the governor said.

Eliminating MaineCare coverage for thousands of people is necessary so the state can spend more on elderly and disabled people on waiting lists for spots in group homes and other facilities, according to Health and Human Services Commissioner Mary Mayhew. Any impediment to that plan — like last week’s U.S. Supreme Court decision barring the state from discontinuing coverage for about 7,000 19- and 20-year-old Mainers — will mean those lists will have to stay long, she said.

And as the state government faced its first shutdown in 24 years, Republican House Leader Ken Fredette refused to sign off on a budget deal unless it called for denying any public assistance to asylum-seeking immigrants.

The stakes are high, but the choices are false.

The only reason that any of these issues are linked is that somebody says they are. They are leverage points, not policy disputes. They are like negotiations with kidnappers — give me what I want or else.

That is no way to govern. Our system is set up to require collaboration. That means that no one gets all that they want, but skilled lawmakers who know how to negotiate can accomplish a lot.

Republicans in Augusta have been unwilling to present the real policy choice — whether Maine can afford to provide government services as the same time it cuts income taxes for its wealthiest residents.

It’s not public land management that prevents the state government from assisting low-income people to upgrade their heating systems.

In fact, the governor himself attempted to siphon $38 million from the Efficiency Maine program by getting his appointees on the Public Utilities Commission to pretend that a typo in the legislation indicated the Legislature’s real intent.

It’s not 7,000 young adults having health care coverage when they fall ill or are injured in a car crash that keeps the waiting lists so long for disabled people and the elderly. The two issues have nothing to do with each other.

And it’s small-minded anti-immigrant animus — not fiscal responsibility — that drives the House Republicans to demand what they call “welfare reform.”

If this were just about balancing the budget, they could tax the top 1 percent of earners at the same rate the bottom 20 percent pays and take care of both groups.

Budgets are all about choices — real choices, not imagined ones. Pitting one set of interests against another might be a good political strategy, but it’s a dishonest way to govern.

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