HOME TO ROOST IN AUGUSTA
A critical look at the assumptions made by "law-makers", who ought to be dismantling, rather than expanding, intrusive expensive ineffective government.

What has come home to roost in Augusta – disguised as a billion-dollar deficit – is a flock of assumptions which, taken together, comprise the misconception that every problem must be solved by government.

The first, usually erroneous, assumption of a governor and a legislature is that there is even a problem in the first place. In every culture there is a population that is never satisfied and always indignant. These are the people who are the most skilled at badgering the legislature and the ones who most deserve to be ignored.

The second assumption is that every problem raised by the perpetually indignant must be resolved, and the third is that it can be resolved. Then comes the assumption that it cannot be resolved without government intervention.

Nevertheless, real problems do exist but are not properly the government’s business. Not all problems have solutions. In rare instances, though, all of the first four assumptions are correct. Sadly, those real problems which can be solved and are deserving of government attention are trampled in the stampede to assuage the shrill and self-righteous.

The fifth assumption is that the appropriate intervention is a law, and better still if it is law that creates a new program or bureau, new and complicated regulations, a new entitlement and, with it, a new generation of people dependent on the government for their financial survival. (That would be lawyers. Silly you, you thought I meant the poor.)

Even if the first four assumptions are correct, the fifth should be viewed with the greatest suspicion. Our legislators should first be assuring that requirements and constraints written into current laws are being met (enforcement). If a new law is still needed, a simple directive or prohibition should be the preferred response.

Seldom are these initial assumptions questioned at all by our lawmakers. (Can’t we call them something else? Calling them lawmakers implies that their purpose is to make more laws. Aren’t they also responsible to dismantle laws that should never have been passed in the first place?)

The sixth assumption in the flock is that a decisive law is politically too risky, wouldn’t pass, and so it must be substituted with a watered-down compromise. Therefore, even if there is a problem deserving of government intervention, our legislature avoids being forthright in addressing it. Politics necessitates compromise to assure that nothing so extreme as to be effective becomes law.

The next assumption is that the legislators are excused from writing any law themselves but must pass “enabling” legislation, handing that task of actual lawmaking to the fourth branch of government, the un-elected, unregulated regulators. The eighth assumption in the succession says that the regulators, (acting on the will of those whom we’ve elected, who are acting with the passive assent of the soon-to-be-regulated), will achieve through rules what the legislation might have achieved in simple language.

If any of these assumptions were challenged honestly, the legislature would be enabling far fewer snarls of incomprehensible regulation and would have much more time to govern effectively. Naturally, the federal government has provided the bad example that most states follow, (and by following, flattering Congress that it deserves to be emulated).

Instead of leading the nation in solving more contrived problems than anyone else – (Following a trend is not leading…) – Maine could show some real leadership by setting a schedule for dismantling the unnecessary, ineffective, and extraordinarily expensive mistakes of past governors and legislatures.

The state could return control over their lives and responsibility for their actions to the citizens of Maine. By getting out of the way, the state could provide opportunity for people to pull themselves up by their own bootstraps, could prevent real human suffering by providing public assistance for people who never had their own bootstraps in the first place, and should resist assisting everyone else who cut theirs off and then whines that the don’t have any. Maine could lead by making remaining laws comprehensible. (Sorry again, lawyers.) Maine could make crime pay. Money for prisons could come from tax revenues that are now being misspent on programs that only foster dependency and the entitlement syndrome.

To show its resolve, the legislature, led by the new governor, could start by drawing up a one-page tax code that would treat a weary populace and burdened businesses to real tax relief. (Accountants: Don’t worry. The federal tax code will continue to assure your employment.)

It is my wager that the Augusta legislators who are convening in early 2003 will ignore the flock roosting in the bare trees outside the Capitol and will make the deficit go away by traditional accounting magic (often touted as a way to leverage more federal dollars), not-so-hidden tax increases (increased fees and fees where there never were any), consumption penalties (gas tax increases), and cuts in funding without reductions in mandates.

I also expect the governor to recommend more debt by referendum. Almost every borrow-and-spend referendum should be shot down by the voters. These are nearly always things that the legislature should be funding now with current tax dollars, if they deserve to be funded at all. When we the voters approve spending referenda, we’re relieving the current governor and legislators of the responsibility for the mess their predecessors made and they’re too cowardly to fix.

The real solution is radical and politically distasteful. It has been easy to predict that every legislature and governor for a generation past and for the near future as well will concern themselves with concocting the most elaborate schemes to push the problem off for eight more years, then another eight. They all see the shadows on the State House lawn, but most still fail to recognize the assumptions roosting nearby that are creating the gloom.

Some of the politicians in Augusta will eventually provide the carcasses that will feed the assumptions. That will be one problem partly solved: The process that they won’t fix will consume at least some of those who were sent to Augusta to repair it.

Maine has been progressive. Maine has led. When Maine goes bankrupt (or whatever a state government is required to do when its obligations exceed its citizens’ gross annual income), we will lead by serving as an example to others who haven’t been as “progressive.” (Reckless would be a better word.) It’s going to be messy.

[See related rants, Make Lawyers Irrelevant and Two Maines to Part Ways!]

2003
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