A Six-Pack, Your Credit Card, and the Car Keys, Please...

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Lawrence E. Lockman

 

I’m getting real tired of being lectured about morality by the Speaker of the House, Rep. Mark W. Eves (D-North Berwick). 

One year ago, during the debate over reigning in the explosive growth of Maine’s Medicaid programs, then-Rep. and Speaker-to-be Eves praised the decade-long expansion of the welfare state as a “wise investment” of taxpayers’ money. He claimed that Maine people are healthier and more productive as a result of increased MaineCare enrollment, and charged that it would be “morally wrong” to deny free health care to any of the tens of thousands of new enrollees, many of them able-bodied young people with no children.

More recently, Speaker Eves has declared his full-throated support for adding another 55,000 able-bodied adults to the MaineCare rolls, under the pretext that the feds say they will bear 100% of the cost for the first couple of years (sound familiar?). With a breath-taking air of moral superiority, Eves declared that another round of federally-subsidized MaineCare expansion is the “right thing to do morally.” 

Excuse me, but when did Speaker Eves become our chaplain? Who appointed him to give lectures on morality? Is he a cardinal perhaps? Has the Vatican elected a new pope?

Frankly, I find his habitual pontificating more than a little annoying. To suggest that those with a different opinion about proposed legislation are somehow immoral, or are promoting immorality, is patently offensive. He needs to knock it off if he expects to earn even a token level of respect from his legislative colleagues.

On the merits, Eves’ push for more welfare spending is naïve, reckless, and irresponsible. The federal government is flat broke. Where does Eves think those promised federal dollars will come from? With the feds already borrowing more than 40 cents of every dollar spent, Eves is proposing to pile even heavier debt on our children and grandchildren. Doesn’t he see any moral problem with borrowing from our grandkids?

Meanwhile, Eves and his Democrat colleagues are dragging their feet on paying off the nearly half billion dollars of unpaid MaineCare bills run up during the scandal-plagued Baldacci administration. The Democrats are pushing back hard against Gov. Paul LePages’s proposal to use revenue from a re-negotiated wholesale liquor contract to pay the hospitals right away, but they waited until the last minute before a legislative hearing on March 11 to unveil their own flawed plan. This was after months of inaction, and hints that they weren’t really serious about paying off the debt. In fact, Senate President Justin Alfond (D-Portland) suggested in a campaign interview in 2008 that we don’t need to pay the hospitals.

State government has been a deadbeat for way too long. In fact, here’s how bad the Baldacci legacy is. Central Maine Medical Center in Lewiston was owed $600,000 for treatment of MaineCare patients when John Baldacci was elected Governor in 2002. Today the hospital is owed over $50 million.

The dirty little secret at the State House is that the majority party wants the revenue stream from the liquor contract to flow directly into the General Fund, so it can fuel more entitlement spending and lock in the smothering embrace of the Nanny State.

This will not end well if Eves and his colleagues have their way. Letting the Legislature get its hands on this revenue stream is like giving your teenage son a six-pack of beer, your credit card, and the keys to the family car on a Saturday night.

It’s time for stone-cold sobriety and a reality check at the State House.

Maine’s safety net has already been stretched to the breaking point. Enrolling tens of thousands of additional Mainers will come at the expense of our most vulnerable citizens, the elderly poor and disabled—those who truly need the safety net. Eves’ agenda would throw granny in the snow bank in order to accommodate the swelling underclass of younger and healthier folks who believe the state owes them a living.

To put this in human terms, we need to keep asking ourselves who is most worthy of our limited resources. Will we make sure your 75-year-old grandmother who lives alone has her meds and stays warm this winter? Or will we continue to subsidize your 28-year-old able-bodied but unemployed nephew and make sure he has a free cell phone, free health care, free methadone and free cab fare to the methadone clinic? Our resources are limited and we’re drowning in debt; we can’t afford to carry both of them. 

Lawmakers will have many tough choices to make in the next year or two, but this one is easy. And you don’t need a graduate degree in family therapy or ethics to figure out which is the right choice.

Lawrence E. Lockman (R-Amherst) represents House District 30 in the Maine Legislature. He serves on the Labor, Commerce, Research, and Economic Development Committee.