According to a memo from his legislative policy director, Gov. Paul LePage is preparing a budget proposal that would drastically reduce the size of state government. Nothing shocking or nefarious there — just the governor doing what he has long pledged to do.

At some point, that proposal will go to the Legislature, and if the process plays out as it has before during LePage’s tenure, the budget will change greatly before it is passed.

Still, LePage is setting the terms of a debate over the number of employees the state needs, forcing the union that represents state workers to justify the positions included in the budget. The governor, for his part, will continue to make his simple argument — state government is just too big, and the powers-that-be will stop at nothing to protect it.

LePage has advocated for those changes for years — though he hasn’t before included them in a budget. To get them, he’ll have to do better.

We are already getting a preview of the impact of a reduced workforce. State government is operating with more than 1,200 fewer positions than are funded by the Legislature. Some of that is normal, but other positions have been left unfilled for reasons that do not make sense, and there are signs that the understaffing has stressed some agencies.

If the state is already feeling the strain, it is hard to see how departments could absorb the elimination of another 2,300 or so positions, to get to the 9,500 laid out in the memo.


There are indications that the governor himself is not aware of the full impact of such a move. After the memo was made public, LePage defended his plan by saying that it included “all vacant positions that have been vacant for a long time,” a statement contradicted by the memo as well as his own Department of Administration and Financial Services.

It wouldn’t be the first time the governor pursued a political goal while appearing to not fully understand its consequences.

Just recently, at one of his “town hall” meetings, LePage seemed to misunderstand who has lost health care coverage under the MaineCare cuts he championed. And in a recent radio address arguing against a referendum question that would force the state to pay 55 percent of education costs, he said, “Superintendents decide what the 55 percent will be, and they move the goal posts every year,” even though what is included in the 55 percent is set by law and has very little to do with actions taken by superintendents.

There may be an argument for reducing the size of state government, but LePage hasn’t made it. That puts the burden on him to convince legislators that eliminating 20 percent of the state workforce is the right thing to do, and not just a ploy to pay for income tax cuts of questionable efficacy. It puts the burden on him to show that the positions should be eliminated because they are truly not needed, not because he holds some personal vendetta against their function.

Cutting positions should come only after careful consideration. It shouldn’t be done unilaterally, and it shouldn’t be done just to fulfill some sort of ideological wish.

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