Rep. Duchesne’s ‘parable’ speech on House floor livens debate over tax relief bill

AUGUSTA, Maine — Rep. Bob Duchesne, D-Old Town, has the perfect voice for giving speeches. He’s like a radio DJ on an oldies station. (which isn’t surprising given that he has an extensive radio background).

So you have to imagine in your head a smooth booming voice delivering the following remarks, which were made Tuesday night during debate on the House floor over LD 849, a tax relief bill championed by Republicans that failed to get enough support in the House.

“The fiscal conservatives in my district think we’re crazy. Currently, if there is an end-of-the-year surplus, the money is used to stabilize our Rainy Day Fund, which protects our bond rating, and pay down our $2-1/2 Billion Dollar unfunded actuarial liability, plus a few other long term obligations. This bill skims 40% of that money – 40% of the money that would pay down our debt…is swept.

So I took this debate to my town meeting in Hudson this weekend, and I put it to some of my conservative friends. It turns out if you ask constituents what we should do with a budget surplus – pay our debts and protect our bond rating…or lower taxes – every one of them said we should pay our bills first and defend our credit.

Men & women of the House, this is a parable of the three majorities.

There once was a story told that the majority party doesn’t pay its debts and jeopardizes Maine’s bond rating. The legend was that if there was ever extra money left over, that majority would spend it on partisan priorities. And, lo, the people were angry and elected a new majority.

But the second majority heeded not its own words, and swept 40% of the money that would have been used to pay its debts and stabilize the budget, and spent it on other priorities. And, lo, the people were amazed, and they were sore afraid, for they thought it unwise to reduce revenue before paying the bills.

And it came to pass that a third majority was elected, and it looked very much like the first. And when a budget crisis fell upon the land because of LD 849, the third majority erased the law, rebalanced the tax code by lowering the income tax and broadening the sales tax, only this time the reform package didn’t include car repairs. Then a feast followed. There was a fatted calf.

Seriously, everyone may want to check with their own constituents. We often say that government should be like households and not spend what we don’t have. But a responsible household pays its bills first. Mainers are now wondering if either party is capable of keeping its hands off a surplus.

I don’t want to tell my fiscally conservative friends in the body what to do, but you might want to table the bill long enough to discuss it back home and find out what the people really think. Then you can quietly commit this bill back to committee next week, where it can be gently smothered with a pillow. Nobody needs to know that we actually discussed skimming 40% of the money that was supposed to pay our debts.”