This week, as Gov. Paul LePage moved forward with plans to cut off state funding for general assistance for illegal immigrants, there was a massive hue and cry from liberals across the state. Though the focus was initially on the question of whether the governor had the authority to make the move — with a variety of special interest groups (such as the Maine Municipal Association) and partisan officials proclaiming that he did not — a more general debate on the wisdom of the policy soon took shape.
Or, at least, it could have taken shape. Instead, so far, it’s been thwarted.
As is usual whenever any attempt to cut spending is made, the immediate cry of “Compassion! For shame!” was heard, with little discussion of the actual facts. The problem with this argument, of course, is that it is so overused it has become the political equivalent of crying wolf.
If you propose to reduce government benefits — or even to fail to expand them — you will, as a result, be attacked as heartless, in an attempt to shut down any real policy discussion. Those who oppose the move don’t want to hear about taxes, budgets, or numbers: These facts are far too inconvenient for them. Instead, they launch personal attacks if you even question the idea of more spending.
The problem with the compassion argument, of course, is that it has no limits — and it only considers one side of the equation. The taxpayers of the state of Maine deserve compassion, too. Many of them are living paycheck to paycheck, and even with the tax reforms passed in the 125th Legislature in 2011, taxes are far too high in this state — and the 126th Legislature last year did them no favors by balancing the state budget on their backs. By raising taxes rather than cutting spending, they took the easy way out, and we are all paying for it today.
One would think that eliminating state funding for general assistance for illegal immigrants would be low-hanging fruit that could gain widespread support. After all, by offering these benefits, we are not only condoning but encouraging the breaking of federal law. It’s not much different than if the state not only legalized marijuana, but offered a subsidy to buy it.
This should have been a pretty straightforward proposal. Even if we can’t stop those new to Maine from getting benefits, surely we can stop those in the country illegally from doing so. Wrong. Apparently, moving state law to be more in line with federal law is illegal, somehow. Even though only a few cities across the state distribute the bulk of these funds, all of us statewide are expected to pay for it. They even raised our taxes to fund it.
Even though this new policy only ends state funding for the practice, leaving cities the option to continue it on their own, that’s apparently unacceptable. If individual cities or private charities want to continue to assist undocumented immigrants, they’re more than free to do so. They just shouldn’t do it with state taxpayer dollars. If you want to be generous and charitable with your own funds, that’s certainly your right.
The next time you hear people object to spending cuts, ask them for alternative places to cut. Failing that, ask them which taxes, specifically, they would raise. It’s intellectually dishonest to be simply opposed to spending cuts without any other solutions in mind. Every special interest in the state objects to spending cuts that impact them.
Our current fiscal path as a state is unsustainable, and we need leaders who recognize that. We need leaders who offer solutions, rather than personal attacks. We need a Legislature and a governor who are willing to stand up to the special interests and make tough decisions on behalf of the taxpayers.