Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Facts, State Spending, and Campaigning

An article in today’s Ostrich, front page, above the fold, includes this passage from a story covering last night’s debate:

Democrat Libby Mitchell countered continuing criticism by Republican Paul LePage that state government has grown fat and bloated. Mitchell, the state Senate president, said spending is at 2004 levels, and several agencies have been consolidated. 

(Read more: http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/n/a/2010/10/18/politics/p173652D25.DTL&type=politics#ixzz12qMjtjTU)

What was that quote we posted the other day???….oh yeah…this one:

As scarce as truth is, the supply always seems to exceed the demand.

Let’s take a look at the facts pertaining to this claim.  We refer you to this item, which summarizes state spending from fiscal year 1996 to the current FY 2010.


Print it out, stare at it, and keep it handy.  Look at it over and over.  Especially the right hand column labeled “total expenditures.”  You’ll note that total state spending (expenditures) has increased EVERY year.  They were $6.15 billion in 2004, and have risen to $7.7 billion in the past fiscal year.

Mitchell’s assertion is indicative of the propaganda game that has been played in Augusta for years.  We will be writing more about this in the coming days.

The strategy to hide spending growth includes two fundamental concepts:

1) Talk only about “general fund” spending, which amounts to less than half of total state spending.

2) Use inflated projections for future spending levels, so that when budget deliberations begin, the news is always that severe cuts are being made, when in fact, in almost every case, what is happening is a lowering of the increases in spending.

If you look at the general fund numbers in the last two years, yes, there have been actual reductions, for the first time in recent memory.  Why?  Precipitous decline in general fund revenues because of the 50th ranked business environment in the nation, and a constitutional obligation to balance the budget.

In other words, the entrenched ruling class, even with their overwhelming majority, really didn’t have much choice.

But you’ll also notice that the figures waved around in recent months of “$800 million in very painful cuts”  followed by the need for “another disastrous $400 million in cuts to vital services” don’t seem to be supported by the spending totals posted by the State’s own accounting office.

Simply put, we are fooled, deceived, and willfully uninformed by those who claim to be our public servants, and the watchdogs who claim they act on our behalf.  Instead, they put their energies and influence into protecting the status quo.

To repeat, we will be writing about this more in the coming days.  For tonight, we end by recycling a relevant item published a bit more than 5 years ago.  It illustrates the case made in the foregoing, and we hope you grasp the fundamentals. 

Sadly, nothing has changed since we first wrote it; in fact, it may be even more relevant than it was in 2005.

Herewith, the Gully Bull Story:


To the editor:

We just returned from Complacency, a one horse town in Maine’s nowhere. Complacency prides itself on its “what, me worry?” community spirit.

To get there, you have to go to Ignorance first, because you can’t get to Complacency from here. We traveled there to see our old friend Gulliver Bull, known to everybody in town as “Gully.” He and his wife Amiyah were doing well, and before long, they suggested we go out for a bite.

So we headed to Chubby Girl, a classic drive-in with wicked good hamburgers, frappes, and fries.

As we pulled into a front row slot, we noticed signs proclaiming “new lower prices!” I asked Gully to explain, and his response was a bit confusing. He said the Chubby burger was $2.25 last year, but that now it costs $2.75.

“What?” I asked. “How can they claim ‘new lower prices’?” Gully replied that before Chubby Girl opened in March, they ran an ad saying the Chubby burger would be $3.00 this year. They got so much sass from anxious locals, that they rolled back the increase to $2.75, and ran another ad talking up their “new lower prices.” “That settled folks down, and life got back to normal in Complacency,” Amiyah added.

“You mean nobody took them to task for raising their prices higher than last year, and then claiming they were lower,” I asked? Gully said, “well, our state representative, Howie Cheatham, went down to chat with Chubby Girl’s owner. She told Howie she’d stop claiming new lower prices when he stops claiming the state reduces spending when the budget increases.”

“That was all it took for Rep. Cheatham to leave without a whimper, and we haven’t seen much of Howie since.”

So the “new lower prices” signs are still up. And folks in Complacency, grateful for the lower prices, are chowing down on Chubby burgers at a record pace.

I wish we could have spent more time with Gully Bull and the worry-free folks of Complacency. But as Amiyah Bull reminded us, sometimes visiting Complacency too long can be bad for you.

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