In 2011, Maine had the lowest rate of income growth in the country, just 3.4%, according to estimates released by the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis.
Maine's last-in-the-nation position is a significant drop from the previous year. From 2009 to 2010, Mainers saw a 2.8% increase in personal income, against a national average of 3%, with the state ranking 28th in the nation.
Gov. Paul LePage, in an interview, said he is not surprised at this year's ranking, saying Maine's overall economy has lagged the nation's for years.
"We have got a lot of work to do," he said. "The education bills that are up there, we need. We need to show the private sector that we recognize that our work force needs a lot more training."
LePage said he has proposed several bills to help the private sector create new jobs and improve the state's economy. He said improving the state's educational systems, from grade schools to the university system, is crucial.
In other areas, he praised passage of legislation authorizing a feasibility study of an east-west highway and said he believes the Department of Transportation will start on the study soon. He also stressed the need for lawmakers to address energy costs.
"We want to be competitive with the Dakotas and Iowa and Wyoming," he said. "We need to get our energy costs down from double digits to single digits. It's that simple."
Other states at the bottom of the economic growth rankings were Alabama at 49, Mississippi at 48, Nevada at 47 and Alaska at 46.
Federal numbers show the rest of New England with stronger growth than Maine, with an average increase of 4.9%.
The U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis also released the latest estimates for 2011 per capita income. That measure is the total personal income of residents of a state divided by its population. According to the bureau, Maine's per capita personal income grew 3.3% to $37,973 in 2011 from $36,763 the previous year, placing Maine 49th in the nation.
The national average increase in per capita personal income was 4.3%, to $41,663. Maine outperformed only Alaska, which grew 2.9%, but continued to have per capita income above the national average, coming in at $45,529 for 2011.
During budget talks, the state's top law enforcement officials have warned the cost of crime fighting is going up as criminals use the latest technology to commit crimes.
"Every time we break a meth lab it costs $15,000," said Public Safety Commissioner John Morris, "because of the care we have to take and the hazmat [team] that we have to send in."
He said the chemicals used to make meth and other designer drugs are very dangerous, some toxic and others explosive. The cost to take them down requires overtime pay, as does missing persons cases and homicides. He said those are significant costs and seem to be increasing.
"Right now in the [missing toddler] Ayla Reynolds case [the cost] is more than $97,000 just for the state police," he said. "The missing firefighter from Florida [Jerry Perdomo] cost us a lot of money. We are spending more and more money on what we call the major crimes unit."
Morris said he expects he will make greater appropriation requests from lawmakers as his costs rise.
"We are not only seeing increased costs, we are seeing reduced federal grant funds and special revenue funds," Morris said.
Col. Robert Williams, chief of the Maine State Police, said overtime for complex cases is only part of the problem. Criminals use a wide array of electronic devices to commit crimes and police are always playing catch up with changing technology.
"We are solving more crimes today through science than we ever did," he said. "The demand and the cost of doing that is increasing exponentially."
Williams told lawmakers their initial approval of $362,000 for three additional positions at the computer crime lab will not reduce the backlog of needed investigations, but will hopefully keep it from growing. He said nearly everybody has a computer, a cell phone and other electronic devices, complicating the search for evidence of a crime.
In documents submitted to the appropriations committee, the scope of the computer crime unit backlog is spelled out in detail. As of March 30 there were 417 computers and hard drives waiting to be analyzed, 71 cell phones, 54 flash drives, 32 digital cameras, 25 memory cards, eight zip drives, eight Xbox game players, six iPods, three GPS units, two digital recorders and two ebook readers. There are also over 600 individual CD and DVD discs to analyze.
A request for $36,000 from the Highway Fund to pay for part of the cost of a forensic chemist in the State Police Crime Lab triggered a broad debate in the Legislature's Transportation Committee over use of the funds for purposes outside of roads and bridges.
"I absolutely object to taking any portion of this out of the highway fund," said Sen. Doug Thomas, R-Ripley. "If this is needed, it should come out of the general fund."
Public Safety Commissioner John Morris explained funding for most state police officers and support personnel are funded through a cost sharing agreement set four years ago after a cost allocation study was done. The highway fund pays 49% of the cost and the state general fund pays 51%; the split used to be 60% highway fund and 40% general fund.
Col. Robert Williams, chief of the Maine State Police, was blunt in his assessment of what will happen without the position.
"To the state police, without this position, a third of the work in the lab is not going out the door and that means a third of the cases that law enforcement in Maine does will not be solved," he said.
Rep. Rich Cebra, R-Naples, co-chairman of the panel shared Thomas' concern. He said the highway fund is already subsidizing the general fund by about $7 million a year. He said an Office of Program Evaluation and Government Accountability study found that at most, the highway fund should be paying for 33% of the state police budget.
"It is this committee that is now again placed in a position where we have to decide," he said. "I would even say our back is to the wall."
Cebra said the highway fund is already subsidizing state police activities unrelated to traffic enforcement. Thomas agreed and reminded committee members that fuel taxes are dedicated by the state constitution for highway-related uses.
"It was important enough to people so we put it in our constitution," he said. "You don't pay for non-highway related things with the highway fund."
Rep. Ed Mazurek, D-Rockland, the lead Democrat on the committee, said he shares the concern of using highway funds for unrelated activities, but said the position is so important it should be funded.
The committee voted to fund the position, but several members said in the future they will look for ways to stop non-highway related spending.