How LePage, Republicans and Democrats are backing up the tracks

Please don’t dominate the rap, Jack
If you got nothing new to say.
If you please, don’t back up the track.
This train got to run today.

Great minds must think alike because while the State and Capitol guys were posting about the last Grateful Dead show in Augusta, I, too, had the Dead on my mind. Grateful Dead lyricist Robert Hunter had a way of saying a mouthful in just a few lines. The opening (above) of New Speedway Boogie runs through my head so much lately when I read about our political leadership, so I decided to make a list.

Here’s my “Please don’t dominate the rap, Jack” list:

Gov. Paul LePage

Gov. Paul LePage.

Gov. Paul LePage. Photo by Troy Bennett | BDN

There’s nothing new coming out of our executive branch — unless it’s a new level of losing his cool. LePage’s tirades, his withholding voter-approved bonds, his threats of vetoes and of campaigning against his colleagues, and his demands that all state agency information request get filtered through him are just backing up the tracks. Enough said.


House Minority Leader Ken Fredette, R- Newport. Photo by Scott Thistle

House Minority Leader Ken Fredette, R- Newport. Photo by Scott Thistle

Rep. Kenneth Fredette and his Republican colleagues are dragging their feet on the budget. Seriously, if they want smaller government and welfare reform take a look at data that show what the DHHS Fraud Investigations Unit was up to in 2013. As far as the SNAP program is concerned, this unit investigated more cases of state-agency-made errors than recipient-made errors or fraud — technically making it a “mistake investigation” unit.

SNAP fraud actually constituted less than one-tenth of 1 percent of all SNAP benefits issued that year. Figuring out how to run the Office of Family Independence effectively and efficiently would be a good start for both smaller government and welfare reform. Imagine how few investigators the Fraud Investigations Unit would need if they were actually investigating the tiny percentage of real fraud cases.


Sen. Justin Alfond, D-Portland. Photo by Ashley Conti | BDN

Sen. Justin Alfond, D-Portland. Photo by Ashley Conti | BDN

Sen. Justin Alfond, Rep. Mark Eves and all the other Democrats refuse to identify the administration of welfare and social services as the biggest welfare problem. Such a reality check would entail not only evaluating performance on the state side but also evaluating the quality, administration, adequacy and outcomes of community service providers who receive state and federal contract funding.

When these services fail — which they do regularly — the impacts and costs are seen in our schools, jails, courts, hospitals, families, businesses — every corner of community. When these services fail, the failure contributes to the unfair perception that recipients, alone, are the source of the problem. Accountability belongs with both recipients and providers with a slight imbalance tipped toward the educated people being compensated to uplift the lives of recipients.

People who oppose amusement taxes
I’ve written about this subject before. People can argue endlessly about whether or not a sales tax should exist, but at this time Maine has one. This tax includes purchases of necessary items like soap, school supplies and clothing. If such necessities are subject to sales tax, ski lift passes and golf greens fees should be taxed, too.

Washing my hair and body, getting dressed — all taxed. You just can’t walk around naked, and we all prefer that the person next to us is at least moderately clean. But you can walk around without a golf club or a ski pole, and there is no rational justification for a sales tax exemption for the purchase of these services in light of what does get taxed.

U.S. Sen. Angus King.
Quite honestly I found the report about King’s rib dinners with other senators a little distressing and redundant having watched the first couple seasons of “House of Cards.” It looks like reality mirroring fiction mirroring reality in a way that’s too trippy for even Dead fans.

King presents these dinners as opportunities to discuss hard issues he describes as “poison politically.”  In the linked article, King bemoaned not being able to take action on issues like the gas tax for fear of how it would play in election cycle ads funded by outside groups. And while it’s good to see politicians from different parties getting together, it would be even better if the gatherings actually resulted in some changes. Congress has yet to make progress on highway funding or the campaign finance reform necessary to limit the influence of outside money on policy.

If King does turn his dinner conversations into legislation that moves our country’s train down the tracks, that will be new even if his Frank Underwood-styled dinners are not.

Patricia Callahan

About Patricia Callahan

Trish is a writer who lives in Augusta. She has worked professionally in education and social services.