Lots and lots of paper gets pushed in Augusta — much of it dry, stoic bureaucratic jargon. The business of state government is serious, and that’s reflected in the writing. It’s important, but nearly never thrilling.
The stuff that’s not dry often comes from political spin officers. That material is colorful in rhetoric and heavy on emotional appeals, but often too busy angling for soundbites to offer straightforward, intellectually vigorous argument.
All that is to say it’s rare for a piece of writing to take its opponent at face value and responds directly and concisely to the argument at hand. Even rarer is the one that does it with a sense humor.
That’s what made the most recent Legislative Bulletin from the Maine Municipal Association so interesting, at least to this political junkie. In it, the group — which represents 487 Maine towns, cities and plantations — rebuked point by point the portions of Gov. Paul LePage’s State of the State address that criticized the MMA.
And it did so simply, in clear language, and even with a bit of tongue-in-cheek repartee.
“We were having some fun,” said Geoff Herman, the MMA official in charge of the Legislative Bulletin. “I guess it’s fair to say that the vehemence of the governor’s antipathy to the association caught us by surprise. … He was very angry, so we just tried to deal with it and put our view on the table.”
During the speech earlier this month, LePage spent a fair amount of time railing against MMA. The enmity between the two is several years old at this point. The group has opposed at every step LePage’s efforts to scrap municipal revenue sharing — the program that sees millions of dollars in state funds funneled to cities and towns to offset the cost of education, public safety and other services.
This year, LePage is pushing the plan again and he’s taking an aggressive stance toward MMA for standing in his way. Here’s some of the fiercest attacks from the speech:
- “[MMA’s] mission is to protect local officials — not local taxpayers.”
- “I, since 1998, have never, I have never seen the MMA say ‘Let’s cut taxes.'”
- “I think we should call them the Middle Man Association, because they pit local taxpayers against local officials. Never do they try to get them to work together.”
In its Bulletin, a weekly subscription-based publication sent mostly to lawmakers, town officials and other insider-types, MMA picked LePage’s assertions apart, sometimes with its tongue planted firmly in its cheek. Examples:
- “The governor’s argument that the residents of Waterville and Winslow would receive $17 million in income tax relief in exchange for $1.5 million in revenue sharing is a pretty clear example of apples-to-something-other-than-apples political rhetoric.”
- “The Governor’s suggestion that the Association, at least in its advocacy function, might be more aptly called the ‘Middle Man Association,’ is on point. As defined by Merriam-Webster’s Online dictionary, a middleman is ‘a person who helps two people or groups to deal with and communicate with teach other when they are not able or willing to do it themselves.’ Synonyms include ‘broker, go-between, intermediary, liaison, emissary, delegate and representative,’ all of which describe the MMA’s advocacy staff.”
The group also takes issue with LePage’s claims that the group has never fought for lower taxes, offering several examples throughout the decades when the group fought for property tax relief for Mainers.
With much of the governor’s tax reform proposal mirroring efforts Democrats have supported in the past, and with Republicans expected to fall in line behind their party’s leader, its feasible that the bulk of LePage’s tax reform scheme will go through unscathed.
But this revenue sharing issue is poised to emerge, once again, as the political football of upcoming budget negotiations. If you’re interested in following that fight, MMA’s response to the governor’s criticisms is must-read material.