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Andi at Dirigo Blue notices some differences between Governor LePage's public statements on the recently-passed budget and his own office's press release on the subject.

Big Talk: Statehouse Stuff

This week on Big Talk, there was a lot to talk about. Hosts Al Brewer and Suzanne Murphy were joined by myself and Gerald Weinand of Dirigo Blue to discuss legislation that has just passed or is currently under consideration in Augusta.

Things are going very quickly in the Capitol at the moment and laws on everything from voting rights to abortion to the environment to workers' rights are all being voted up or down in the two chambers.

We also spent some time discussing the First District Court's redistricting ruling.

Also last night - it looks like the Appropriations Committee has reached a compromise on the biennial budget, although full details are not yet available. It now faces votes in the House and Senate, with a two thirds majority in each required for passage.

Download the episode here or subscribe to the Big Talk podcast here.

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LePage vs. Big Bird

This week at Down East, I discussed the changing tone of the audiences at LePage's town hall meetings. What once were supportive crowds are now turning a bit more hostile to the governor and his policies.

I neglected to mention my favorite quote from LePage's most recent town hall, via the BDN:

“I absolutely believe the federal government should put people ahead of eagles,” LePage said. “We have gotten to a point in our society where humans don’t count and I think that’s unfortunate. I’m a big believer that people pay taxes and eagles don’t.”

LePage Declines To Include Own Pension in Cuts

In my column this week in the Kennebec Journal and Morning Sentinel, I discuss the aftermath of last week's revelation that Paul LePage had exempted himself from the pension cutbacks he proposed for teachers and public employees.

Last week's piece got a great deal of attention, including stories on MPBN, on TV newscasts in Portland and Bangor and on the front page of the Sun Journal (the same article also ran in the Bangor Daily News). National blogs also highlighted LePage's hypocrisy.

All this attention did not result in LePage changing his mind or his policies, however. Despite two members of the administration telling the media that the governor would consider fixing the exemption, in the end he decided not to.

As the governor's spokesperson, Dan Demerrit, posted on As Maine Goes, "the LePage Administration is not going to run down to the Appropriations Committee because Mike Tipping wrote a column and pretend an additional $1,400 pension contribution from the lowest paid Governor in the country is a solution to our giant budget problems."

Video from WABI after the jump: Read more »

LePage Exempts Own Pension From Budget Cuts

One of the tough things about writing a newspaper column after having blogged for a while is the distressing lack of hypertext. Words have to stand on their own, rather than being butressed by photos, videos and links to sources.

So I'm going to use this opportunity to provide some linked context to today's Kennebec Journal/Morning Sentinel column on LePage's decision to exempt himself from cutbacks to the pensions of teachers and other public employees, and how the money the state saves from these cutbacks is to be used to reduce taxes for Maine's wealthiest residents.

MRSA Title 2 spells out the governor's pension and other benefits and Title 5 governs other state employees' benefits. They all currently pay the same 7.65% pension contribution. Part S of LePage's budget changes Title 5, but leaves Title 2 alone, which means that LePage's pension contributions will stay the same even as they are increased for other public employees. Title 2 also describes how LePage will be eligible for a pension worth 3/8ths of his salary as soon as he leaves office. Read more »

The Future of Public Teaching

Not yet in focus in the debates about Governor LePage's proposed changes to teachers' retirements is the immediate consequence to staffing within Maine schools.

As the crest of the teachers' demographic now mark sixtieth birthdays, onerous retirement penalties and incentives will precipitate big changes.

With good teachers now caricatured nationally for their presumed greed and incompetence, one may take these reductions as calculated. But, while Sawin Millett has said that the Governor's budget is predicted upon a decrease of 1100 teachers, it seems quite possible that the real reduction could end up much greater.

The Governor proposes, beginning January 1, to require new retirees under the age of 65 to pay the full cost of private health insurance. Under most teachers' pensions, the basic arithmetic will make this prohibitively expensive. So, regardless of the merits of the Governor's plan, you can be certain that most retirement-eligible teachers in the 60-65 age range right now are weighing giving their notice. Read more »

Public Workers Will Fight LePage's Budget

Public sector employees and teachers are mobilizing their brothers and sisters, friends, neighbors and families. They are joining with fellow Mainers from Kittery to Fort Kent. They are not going to sit idly by and watch a lifetime of work go up in smoke with the stroke of a pen.

They are asking their State Senators and Representatives to oppose Governor LePage’s proposed two-year state budget, which would weaken the economic, health and retirement security of tens of thousands of Maine workers and retired workers. It would substantially diminish the employment benefits necessary to attract and retain Maine’s next generation of workers.

The conversations that are happening between public workers and teachers and legislators are respectful, informed discussions about how Maine workers and retired workers deserve to be treated. They are discussions about how public services are best delivered with the highest level of accountability in Maine. It’s so important that our State Senators and State Representatives hear that all Maine workers deserve to be treated fairly and with respect, and that the State of Maine has a special obligation to keep its promises to retired workers. Read more »

Social and Political Disparity

More than 500 people jammed the Hall of flags yesterday to oppose the deep cuts to social services in the proposed budget.

A much-hyped "counter rally" by the Maine Heritage Policy Center at the same time drew about a dozen supporters.

Despite the support for a balance between cutting programs and raising revenue to fill the budget gap, governor Baldacci and legislative leaders have repeatedly expressed their intention to rely only on cuts.

Back to the Future

Columnist Al Diamon has taken the opportunity of the Porltand Phoenix's ten-year anniversary to take a look back at the Maine political scene in 1999 and compare it to today. His conclusion?

"If there's anything the last decade should have taught us, it's that money — or the lack thereof — makes absolutely no difference in the way the governor, the Legislature, and the state bureaucracy do their jobs. In both good times and bad, they fuck things up."

The feature is an indictment of just about everyone who has set foot in Augusta for the past ten years, and you can tell it was cathartic to write. Diamon also provides some advice for setting things right. Here's one suggestion:

"Stop delaying tax reform. Baldacci has proposed cutting the income tax at least four times in the last seven years without ever actually doing it. Legislators have studied expanding the sales tax for so long they should have doctorates by now. Quit stalling. Show some balls."