Dear 129th Maine State Legislature:
I know it’ll still be a while before you are officially called to order in the State House, but nonetheless I look forward to your arrival. I’ve been blogging through two legislative budget cycles now, and all I can think is, here’s hoping the next legislature is more functional.
I’ve been more than a bit taken aback by the idea that elected officials find it so hard to fulfill what I would consider the primary responsibility of our legislative and executive branches, which is to maintain the state budget. The 127th Legislature thought the solution was letting four men draft the budget behind closed doors at the last minute.
The 128th isn’t doing much better. This time a government shutdown seems to be the solution of choice since some of our House Republicans, along with Governor LePage, seem unable to play nicely with others. (Forget about tax returns and financial disclosures … I’m beginning to think we need to start asking elected officials for their kindergarten report cards.)
I’m not sure what goes wrong. The 128th Legislature is full of intelligent, capable people. I’ve had the good fortune to interview and interact with a small number of them, and they’re a respectable bunch representing both sides of the aisle.
I can only come up with one possible explanation: once actively caucusing at the State House, legislators are prone to putting party politics and showmanship ahead of problem solving. I’ve tried, but I just can’t comprehend the concept of ideology adherence keeping intelligent, capable people from fulfilling a basic job requirement, like maintaining the state budget.
Further, drafting the budget in the first half of a given legislative session is more than just a basic job requirement — it’s a constitutional requirement. It’s not clear to me why your predecessors have been so comfortable with flouting the very constitution they were elected to uphold, but I hope your collective will not share their comfort level.
To that end, I have an idea for a bill that one of your members could propose. How about a law that gives lawmakers a strict timeline within the first half of the session to produce a budget? Failure to do so would result in a loss of pay for the legislative and executive branches during the second half.
If someone needs to pay for politicians wasting state resources to play party politics games shouldn’t it be the players themselves, rather than citizens or state employees?
Also, I hope your collective includes more millennials, who have little use for blind faith adherence to party ideology. I love that about my kids and their peers, though the circumstances that led to their disdain range from complicated to sad.
Among those circumstances, the idea that elected officials were so busy playing party politics that they failed to notice and effectively act on a drug problem turning into our children’s Vietnam. Body bags and destroyed minds are a common theme for Maine millennials in their circles of friends and family.
I had high hopes for the 129th, and it troubles me to already be pinning those hopes on you some year and a half before your creation. However, there’s a lot to be said for the idea of a legislature finally working with a new chief executive.
And at least one of Governor LePage’s diehard supporters is due to be term limited out of the House. One hopes the effect of such changes will be the lawmaking equivalent of clouds clearing to sun after an elongated nor’easter.
Anyway, I wanted to check in with you and let you know I am very much looking forward to your arrival.