When I first started serving in Augusta, in 2005, there was a long standing joke.
Why are there no stone walls in Augusta? Because they have all been turned over, looking for money.
The word that I would use to describe Governor Mills’ recently-released biennial budget is “unsustainable”.
I’m very concerned that her $8 billion dollar spending proposal will send us directly back to the days of budget shortfalls and the continued search for more money to fund the programs that have been expanded.
In her State of the Budget speech, Governor Mills said that, “This budget is pro-growth,” and I have to agree with her.
This proposal will increase government spending by an astounding $800 million dollars, which represents double-digit growth for the first time in twenty years.
Rather than new and innovative ideas that continue to move Maine’s economy forward, it relies on an unsustainable level of government growth and spending that doesn’t balance without one-time funding sources and gimmicks that are sure to cause budget shortfalls down the road, forcing future Legislatures and administrations to raid the Rainy Day Fund, increase taxes or rein in out-of-control spending.
The Mills budget begins negotiations in the red, using surplus dollars generated from eight years of Republicans’ fiscal restraint to cover a $62.6 million shortfall in the second year, along with a number of other one-time funding sources that will be used to grow government programs, including Medicaid expansion.
Even with the use of these one-time funds, the spending package relies on the State of Maine taking in more tax dollars over the next two years than we currently do today, leaving absolutely no buffer to protect Maine taxpayers.
This means that if our economy faces any hiccups or if any costs exceed what is projected, we cannot pay our bills.
And this budget doesn’t put a single penny into savings.
This isn’t how I run my household, and it isn’t how Maine taxpayers expect their hard-earned dollars to be handled.
Further, the priorities set by this budget are troubling.
While sinking at least $146 million into free health care for able-bodied adults, only $15 million is earmarked for our elderly and disabled residents who have been languishing on lengthy waitlists for years.
This budget also strips drug testing requirements for TANF recipients who have previously been convicted of a drug-related crime. This requirement is critical to safeguard taxpayer dollars from abuse. It also helps identify families in crisis so we can connect them with the services they need to kick their addictions and get their lives back on track.
Property tax payers will suffer under this proposed budget, as it doesn’t reach revenue sharing levels promised by Mills, and it includes a mandatory increase in the minimum teacher salary from $30,000 to $40,000. This raise will be funded on the backs of local school districts.
In previous budgets, Republicans made a conscientious effort to better target education resources to where they make the most difference – into the classroom.
Mills’ budget will reverse this trend.
These are a few of my initial concerns as I comb through the proposed biennial budget. As always, I look forward to working with my colleagues on the Appropriations Committee to draft a reasonable budget that Maine families can afford.