Followers of AsMaineGoes.com, the state’s oldest and most popular online forum, saw three charts last week detailing the rise of state spending under former governor Angus King, who is now running for U.S. Senate.
The charts, which show dramatic increases in state spending and a surge in MaineCare, as well as the decline of financial reserves, during the King administration, were in posts attributed to State Treasurer Bruce Poliquin.
Poliquin said he does not post on AsMaineGoes.com, and he did not put the charts there. But he said the charts show data that is available publicly.
“The public data shows that during the King administration, General Fund spending accelerated from $1.6 billion to $2.5 billion,” Poliquin said. “That’s a $900 million increase in annual state spending.”
When a TV ad run by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce last month called King the ‘‘king of spending” and stated that he left a ‘‘$1 billion budget shortfall’’ when he vacated office, King called the shortfall a “theoretical gap.”
‘‘It’s an easy potshot and it’s wrong,’’ he told The Associated Press.
King told the AP that he succeeded in cutting the sales tax, providing property tax relief through the homestead exemption and giving incentives to job creation through the business equipment tax, as well as working to eliminate budget gimmicks, invest excess cash in infrastructure and bolster the rainy day fund.
“It appears that during the first six years of the King administration, our financial reserves increased to $144 million,” Poliquin said. “But as the economy slowed and revenues fell off during the last two years of the King years, instead of cutting spending, he chose to drain our financial reserves down to $11 million.”
National credit rating agencies criticize state governments if they show low levels of financial reserves, Poliquin said. “The credit agencies are highly critical of any state government that is unable to pay its bills in an anemic economy with no money in the bank,” he said. “The rainy day fund is our savings account.”
Increasing spending on state government and expanding MaineCare, then drawing down the financial reserves, left the state in a precarious position.
“It is critical that our state government have financial reserves to cushion us during the tough economic times,” he said. “Our state was left with low financial reserves because of the government that he grew. He handed off the State of Maine to Governor Baldacci with no money in the bank.”
Poliquin said that former governor Baldacci had to carry the billion-dollar shortfall during his tenure in office, then the LePage administration inherited it. While King enjoyed a robust economy during most of his term, which allowed him to increase the rainy day fund, the economic climate is now much more harsh.
“We haven’t had the opportunity, like he did, to build up the financial reserves,” Poliquin said. “We’re still struggling with it.”