While much focus has been placed on Governor LePage’s proposal to suspend revenue sharing payments to municipalities in order to balance the state’s budget, several important aspects of the proposal have gotten less attention.
Gov. LePage’s proposal prioritizes education, maintaining funding for Maine schools after they received a $63 million boost in the last biennial budget. The Baldacci Administration cut education funding by $100 million in its final three years.
The budget proposal also addresses the workforce skills gap by restructuring the apprenticeship program and increasing funding by over $1 million for Jobs for Maine’s Graduates. Furthermore, schools will receive an additional $15 million in incentives to improve efficiency and accountability.
“I’m glad the Governor has prioritized education in this budget,” said House Republican Leader Ken Fredette (R-Newport). “His proposal reflects a bipartisan desire to close Maine’s skills gap and improve educational results.”
Although it trims welfare eligibility, the budget proposal protects Maine’s most vulnerable by providing an additional $2 million in funding for mental health services, fully funding legal services for the indigent, funding disaster relief for localities, reducing wait lists for mental health services and doubling the Homestead Exemption for Mainers over 65 from $10,000 to $20,000.
It also increases funding to the Maine State Police by over $15 million and provides state funds to offset the loss of federal money previously allocated to fight drug-related crime.
“We must maintain services as best we can for mental health patients and Maine seniors,” said Assistant House Republican Leader Alexander Willette (R-Mapleton). “I’m glad the Governor has proposed increasing assistance to Maine seniors with property tax relief and to mental health patients with shorter wait lists, and I hope that these parts of the proposal receive serious consideration before the Appropriations Committee and the Legislature.”
In addition to preserving and improving state government’s essential functions in providing public education and assistance to the most needy, the Governor’s budget proposal also makes common-sense changes that save significant amounts of taxpayer money. These include eliminating 200 state government positions (most of them unfilled), instituting “zero-based budgeting” across departments to require every dollar be justified, and eliminating cash welfare benefits for non-citizens.
“These are changes that practically everyone can agree with, and they reflect the Governor’s commitment to manage state government like a business,” said Willette.
Rep. Fredette also emphasized that the Governor is taking steps to avoid deep cuts to education and elder services, even using the rainy day fund to help close the fiscal year 2013 budget gap in a proposed supplemental budget. “It’s hard to say the Governor isn’t trying to minimize the pain when a fiscal conservative like himself is calling on the rainy day fund to solve the budget gap at DHHS,” said Fredette.