The 2018 transition to spending like a drunken sailor

By Paul Ackerman | Nov 29, 2018

(With apologies to all sailors who never drank to excess, it’s a phrase of historical context, no insult intended.)

During a recent discussion about health care costs in Maine and Gov.-elect Janet Mills' promise to expand Medicaid immediately upon taking office, the question arose as to whether the carefully set-aside rainy day fund of the LePage administration would be pilfered to initially pay for this – as the federal monies will not fund it right away, and will disappear after a few years — the general consensus was. “Of course, there isn’t any other funding option immediately available.”

How long will the $273 million rainy day fund (actually termed the Budget Stabilization Fund) last if used to pay for this version of Medicaid expansion? Maybe a few months, if you are an optimist.

As Mills said during the campaign. “The money is there, and, as governor, I’ll implement Medicaid expansion on day one.“

Claiming that it will only cost the state a paltry $60 million to “...Provide 70,000 Mainers with health coverage” honestly sounds more like wishful thinking. It did not work before, and it is highly unlikely to work out to that cost level now, as Vermont discovered recently with its failed program.

Expand anything you want, but if the physical staff does not exist to treat or care for the population covered, all you’ve done is create more waiting lists and very likely worse outcomes for all.

Ever wonder how many of the expansion advocates actually work for a living in the medical field? How many on Mills’ staff will be doing graveyard shifts at Maine Med in the ER?

Unfortunately, the Legislature has never come up with the money to fund Medicaid expansion. Perhaps with the new super-majority seated, the new Legislature will invent a hat to pull that rabbit out of without raising taxes or fees. It will be an issue to watch with serious interest, as it will have a major impact on Maine businesses and the entire economy here for years to come, though not in the “free lunch” way portrayed. “The money is there…” Where have we heard that before?

Short of raising taxes in a very significant way, as Vermont’s governor discovered last year for the same situation, it appears inevitable that the new administration will begin on this note of using the rainy day fund and continue down the road of fiscal binges.

We can hope not, but from almost 50 years of observation of Maine’s Democratic governors, I’d say their record proves that would be guaranteed wishful thinking.

I’m encouraged that many of those recently elected to the Maine House and Senate have issued statements promising to work hard for all constituents, and that they really do listen to all voters. Mind you, I won’t be holding my breath when they don’t offer to work on legislative issues with any of the Republican legislators, but at least their statements of fellowship (if not bipartisanship) will be wonderful to look back on in 2020.

One gathers that the transition team Mills has assembled in Augusta is very busy planning the dismantling of the entire LePage administration efforts. As expected when one promises a laundry list of liberal agenda items, there will be costs, monetary and otherwise. We’ve seen this before, just perhaps not so aggressively positioned.

The real million-dollar question, and any honest person knows the answer, is this: after the tens of millions of out-of-state money buys our electorate once again, who picks up the pieces, goes to work and actually pays the state’s bills?

Hint – It sure isn’t going to be the Super PACs or big-money donors from out of state.

Comments (3)
Posted by: Ronald Horvath | Dec 03, 2018 10:08

Only a Republican would call it "pilfering" when the people's money is actually used to benefit the people.  I suppose giving the already rich another gigantic tax "break" would please Mr. Ackerman more.  And just who do you think, Paul, will be standing in those "waiting lists?"  Mainers, that's who.  (How quixotic is it that a conservative bemoans the expense of providing health care for people even while inadvertently admitting that there's a lot of people in our state who are in need of it.)  Some Mainers have already been stripped of their health care by Republicans only too ready to heap more burdens on the poor and working classes while fawning on the one percent who pay them.  That $500,000 "reward" for Paul Ryan from the Koch brothers will soften an already opulent retirement on the public tab.


And, of course, a conservative is only upset at the inflow of "out of state money" when his own side's prodigious dumping of cash into our elections doesn't produce his desired results.  We can only wonder how much of that budget busting tax cut for the rich was used to buy elections for Republicans nation-wide.  In any case Ackerman's self-imposed blinders are only too obvious.  Even now the Republicans in the Senate are plotting to cut Social Security and Medicare to pay for their fiscal irresponsibility.  What ever they can rip off the backs of common Americans, that's the Republican "rainy day fund."

Posted by: Richard McKusic, Sr. | Nov 30, 2018 06:09

Onward and upward. The vote was very clear that people are tired of gridlock and not following the will of the people. Business as usual will no longer float the boat.  We are up to living in the solution and forgetting the blame game. I want to see legislators enjoying their job once again.

Posted by: Mary A McKeever | Nov 29, 2018 15:16

A thoughtful read and one would ponder the question of who will pick up the tab? My generation had spent monies when money was there and towns had no debt. Now, not so. Yes, I am 84 and looking back in different times and different values. One value was, do not buy if you did not have the cash. Yes I use the term cash. For one saved their pennies and one never wanted to being debt. I wonder who will pay the bill for this younger generation who will age, for sure. But by then, I surely will be a thought from the past.

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