2018-04-05 / Editorial

Shouldn’t we demand more transparency?

The Right Side
by Mike Coleman

Transparency is vital to maintain the legitimacy of our democratic processes. More information and more vetting of any proposal that will be voted on by the people or in the Legislature is preferable to less. Last week in a disgraceful move, Democrats in the Maine Legislature by one vote blocked sending to the Taxation Committee “An Act To Establish Universal Home Care for Seniors and Persons with Disabilities,” an initiative we vote on this November. To fund this unprecedented increase in spending, a huge tax increase is going to be imposed on taxpayers who earn more than $127,800 annually.

Generally, every bill that will be voted on by our Legislature is referred to one of the joint committees with jurisdiction on the subject matter of the bill. This performs several vital functions. It provides the public an opportunity to testify before the committee and on the public record what effect the proposed legislation may have. Committee members can ask questions of the public and experts who testify for or against a bill. Often, subject matter experts who may not be expressing an opinion for or against a bill are present to give information to our lawmakers about what the bill may or may not do if enacted. The bill is also analyzed to determine if the bill will affect state finances. If there will be a cost, a fiscal note is required that details the balance of revenues to spending. This information is important if our legislators are to make informed decisions.

Any citizen initiative may be enacted by the Legislature. If it does so without any changes it does not go to voters. The Legislature may provide voters with a competing measure if it wishes. If it goes this route then it is referred to the committee with jurisdiction for a public hearing, and at least one work session. Arguments pro and con may be presented. Even if the Legislature is not going to take up the bill and instead just send the initiative to the people, information becomes part of the public record to help voters make a decision.

By bypassing the adversarial committee process, Democrats in the Maine House of Representatives voted for the public to have less transparency and less information on this important question that is estimated to cost Maine taxpayers more than $300 million annually. This is shameful on their part. Instead voters will primarily receive information on this initiative from biased, 30-second television ads funded by special interests who will reap huge gains from the proposed legislation.

Economists speak of concentrated benefits and distributed costs in what may be called public choice theory. It explains why corporations, lobbyists and groups like the Maine Peoples’ Alliance exert a great deal of effort on expanding government at the expense of hard working taxpayers who have little time to contact their elected representatives. Lobbyists and special interests thrive when transparency is lacking, and voters are spoon fed their version of the story 30 seconds at a time.

This is just another reason why elections matter. The choice we make can add transparency or make government more opaque and less responsive.

Mike Coleman is a former town councilor in Old Orchard Beach and was a member of the Maine Republican State Committee from 2010 through 2017 where he served as budget chairman under three separate state chairmen. He represented Maine at the Republican National Convention as an alternate in 2012. He recently left the Republican Party and became an Independent.

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