So, as I stated earlier, Paul LePage thinks that Maine should return somewhere between $2 billion and $3 billion in Federal funds to Washington each year because, according to Paul LePage, Mainers didn’t pay enough in Federal taxes.
This topic came up on AMG. The Republican reaction ranged from “good riddance” to “you lie!”
For instance, AMGer ldwight joined the ‘good riddance to the Federal money’ camp when s/he wrote:
“… in 2009 the feds sent Maine $650,000 million just to paper over the budget deficit in Maine, according to the information distributed by the Office of Fiscal and Program Review.
Already in 2010 (fiscal year beginning July 1, 2010) the feds have plugged another $139 million into the state, for state and local spending.
Get a clue. This is not only a sound fiscal policy, but also a sound ethical and moral one as well.”
The number in the first part must be a typo: “$650,000 million” would equal $650 billion, which is only one-hundred times larger than Maine’s entire budget. So ldwight probably meant that the Feds helped Maine by giving us a mere $650 million towards our budget. It was called the stimulus, and because of it your children still have teachers, your roads will be plowed this winter, and there will still be police patrolling your street. Not only that, but your local grocery store will have teachers, plow drivers, and police around to buy food, your local movie theatre will have them around to buy movie tickets, and your home value will plummet less because the teacher or plow driver or police officer living next door was able to pay his or her mortgage, thus avoiding a potential foreclosure. This is how the stimulus was supposed to work, and it has for that purpose. It is sound policy.
AMGer ldwight, on the other hand, seems to think that the “sound fiscal policy” would be to refuse Federal money. He or she also thinks that it is an “ethical and moral” imperative to refuse such funds.
Roger Ek, to step aside for a moment, makes his own camp:
Military bases have been closed at an accelerating rate in Maine. About all we have left is a few National Guard, reserve and recruiting offices along with Portsmouth Naval Shipyard. It is not useful to compare military spending with over-all state expenses. There will always be military bases and their costs should not be used to claim benefits to the state.
That’s great, Roger, but 1) It doesn’t make sense, and 2) If it did, it has nothing to do with what we were talking about. But anyways, let’s go back to ldwight’s point because he, at least, appears to be non-senile.
He thinks the “ethical and moral” thing to do is refuse Federal money beyond whatever amount Mainers pay in Federal taxes. What would Maine have to cut to make this happen?
Before we look at that, we must consider (as Dan Billings pointed out) that some of the Federal money is coming back to the state in the form of Social Security and Medicare, which doesn’t go through the state government. In 2004, one-third of the Federal expenditure in Maine came in the form of retirement and disability payments. So we’ll take a lowball number of Federal excess payments of around $2.5 billion, and we’ll immediately cut off one-third of that because it doesn’t go through state government. That leaves about $1.6 billion dollars that Paul LePage, at least theoretically, would love to just send back to the Feds. And people on AMG not only agree with this idea, but think we’re acting immorally if we don’t. So where would Maine cut $1.6 billion from it’s budget?
To AMGers the answer is crystal clear: cut welfare. To them, welfare is a giant albatross sucking Maine dry (Albatrosses are known for their blood-sucking appendages, right?). As Earl Nickerson, Jr. so stereotypically wrote:
Just by bringing Maine into line with federal guidlines and residentcy requirements regarding welfare and medicare we can save quite a bit…
This seems so easy. Just cut off the free-loaders and everything will be fixed. He isn’t even saying that welfare should be strict, just bring it down to the Federal guidelines. Limit benefits to five years, that sort of thing. It sounds great, but it is 99.99% not based in reality.
- Only about 1% of welfare recipients have exceeded the five year Federal guideline. The savings created by implementing this guideline would be miniscule. The same can be said of a waiting requirement; only a very small percentage of recipients would be impacted by the waiting requirement. Those that would be impacted, however, would not necessarily be those trying to game the system. For instance, think of an abused woman from Maine who moved to New Hampshire with her husband. She wants to leave him and move back home, where she could have the support of her family. She needs TANF for some time while she sorts out her life. Does a 90-day residency period help or hurt the chances of her leaving her abuser? Is this requirement worth it? Isn’t a requirement that a recipient be working toward self-sufficiency, which is an actual requirement, make more sense than an arbitrary waiting period or deadline?
- If you take a look at a recent DHHS budget, you’ll find that there is actually not enough welfare to cut to make Republicans happy. TANF is, after all, less than 2% of Maine’s total budget. Within DHHS, welfare programs such as TANF and food stamps generally fall under the headings of “Integrated Access and Support” and “Child and Family.” Those departments also include non-welfare activities that Republicans could probably grudgingly support, like tracking down deadbeat dads and investigating allegations of child abuse, so even they would likely be hesitant to just cut all funding. Yet, if we look at the DHHS budget carefully we find that even if we cut those two departments COMPLETELY we would only reduce spending by about $583 million. This is not chump change, but it is still only one-third of the money Maine should ‘ethically and morally’ return to the Feds. Furthermore, the vast majority of the money in question is not funded by the Federal government; therefore, to return the whole $1.6 billion we are going to have to cut somewhere else. So let’s look at the rest of the DHHS budget.
$131 million for adults with cognitive and physical disabilities? Do Earl Nickerson and Paul LePage want to cut that?
$34 million for substance abuse programs? Well, I guess we shouldn’t be helping druggies anyways; we should be locking them up. But it is only $34 million, so that doesn’t help us much.
Oh, what’s this? A department with a $2.1 billion dollar budget, of which $1.5 billion comes from the Federal government? That would solve our problem right there. What is this program?
There is no way to do what Paul LePage wants to do without substantially cutting, and by substantially I mean making cuts of 50% or greater, the program known as Medicaid.
Has Paul LePage actually looked at the state budget? Does he understand what he would have to do to make these cuts work? Does he understand that his grand plan to remake Maine’s welfare system would, if it cut costs in half, save less than $300 million per year in a multi-billion dollar budget (and that’s very generous on two counts: 1) LePage’s plan doesn’t seem likely to reduce costs much at all, and 2) I’m calculated costs by the sizes of particular departments, which may in fact do other things than just welfare)? Does he understand that the only sizeable item even close to welfare in the state budget is Medicaid, so if he wants to make sizable cuts to the welfare state he is going to have to cut Medicaid?
I think he doesn’t. And I don’t understand why, for the life of me, no one is making LePage make a detailed statement on what he would cut. If he really means what he says, then Mainers deserve to know the drastic impact this will have on their own lives and the lives of their neighbors.
If LePage tries to do what he says he is going to do, he is going to dismantle Medicaid in the state of Maine. There is no other way.