Interview with Ben Dudley (10/8/09)

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October 8, 2009

Ben Dudley

Ben Dudley is the executive director of Engage Maine and opponent of the Maine Tax Relief Initiative, Question 4 and the Maine Auto Excise Tax Repeal, Question 2. Both are scheduled to appear on the November 2009 ballot.

1a. On October 8, 2009 Dudley and members of the Center for Unified Maine protested TABOR II and Grover Norquist's appearance at Sable Oaks Marriott in South Portland. Here is what he had to say.

Grover Norquist is here to for an event by the Maine Heritage Policy Center, they are the sponsor of the TABOR initiative, and we are taking the opportunity, just as they are, to highlight their relationship with Grover Norquist and how his current extreme views are a very well represented in the TABOR campaign here in Maine.

1b. What exactly is it about his views in particular, regarding TABOR, that you find extreme?

He has a very extreme perspective on taxes and on government and on people who have received government services. He referred to farmers receiving economic support as “welfare bums.” He’s compared morality around the estate tax to the morality around the Holocaust. He’s got an extreme perspective and he said himself, he wants to "shrink the government to a size so small you can drown it in a bathtub." That very well represents the attitude of TABOR and what TABOR is trying to accomplish, rather than actually talking about the types of programs that government funding supports and how we all rely on it. Have a debate on what sort of resources we want from government structures. We are just having a conversation about taxes, the payment for them, which is completely divorced from the other conversation – about what our tax dollars actually pay for.

2. Some argue that Maine's implementation of LD 1, a type of limit on spending, is not enough because it can and has been circumvented by lawmakers. Others argue that it is enough to control state spending. What is your opinion on this argument?

First of all, the petitions that they circulated to get this question on the ballot, they began circulating those almost 2 years ago. So to start the process, get it in line to be on the ballot this year, they had to start almost 2 years ago. It was still 2007. It was well before the economic prices really happened and the circumstances have changed so dramatically from when they started the effort that its impossible for them argue that the state’s response to the crisis hasn’t been anything but responsible. First of all, we have expenditure caps in place, we have it in place since 2005 and they are working. The state government is well beneath those caps. State spending in actual dollars, nominal dollars, has actually decreased in the most recent budget cycle. Over the past several years, in real terms, state spending has continued on a decline. State budget makers and the governor have exercised enormous fiscal constraint in the past 5 years. And so, the argument that they are making, that we have some sort of runaway spending problem is factually, completely incorrect. What they are seeing to do is take this extreme context of an economic decline and freeze it in place with TABOR II to say “this is the right size of government right now in the middle the recession and this is where we want it to stay over the long term.” That’s an extreme perspective.

3. The Maine Heritage Policy Center argues that TABOR II will put the decision about state spending in the hands of the voters. They will decide. Do you think it will do this, increase choice in Maine?

In some ways it actually reduces choice. In Maine, in all of Maine, we have a proud heritage of town meetings, where members of the community, ordinary citizens come together to debate and approve town spending. What the TABOR II initiative would do is it would tell town meetings in ever community, just about every community across the state, that your town meeting is no longer the final decider. It takes the power from those citizens who decided to take the time to roll up their sleeves and really learn the issues. I don’t know how they make that argument.

4. What is your opinion of Question 2, the auto excise tax repeal measure?

Again, it’s another extreme measure. Frankly, it divides Republicans. Even conservatives don’t agree on excise tax cut. It’s a huge hit to municipal governments and maintaining the safety of our roads and bridges, vital infrastructure. I think all along, I think the other side has been cynical and I think they deliberately put that question forward as a way to divide the effort that would be opposing TABOR. I don’t believe they ever believed they would pass it; it was just a decoy all along. And it’s a decoy with a false green front. They are trying to capitalize on consumers’ interests in efficient fuel vehicles and hybrids. So it’s cloaked in green.

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