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Gov. Janet Mills Monday said the time is right to take advantage of the state's strong economy to invest in further strengthening the state's health, safety and workforce with a $126.6 supplemental budget.
The proposal adds Department of Health and Human service caseworkers, state troopers, enhancing workforce and economic development efforts and increasing the Budget Stabilization Fund without adding any new programs or increasing taxes, she said.
“The economic forecast and revenue projections are generally positive, with more than half of the projected revenue being one-time funds, permitting us to identify specific needs to present to the Legislature," Mills said at a news conference, with her cabinet standing behind her. "In preparing this proposal, we asked one question: What problems do we need to solve now to protect the safety and welfare of Maine people and the Maine economy?”
Mills also proposed a “connections” bond package that includes $15 million to expand access to high-speed internet for residents and businesses and $100 million for transportation funding that the Maine Department of Transportation built into its recently-released work plan.
The budget would increase the 2020-21 biennial fiscal year budget from $8.012 billion to $8.138 billion, but Finance Commissioner Kirsten Figueroa, speaking at the news conference, said that the increase is within the state's revenue forecast. She added that the forecast for fiscal year 2022-23 is $8.45 billion.
Figueroa said that the proposal doesn't create any new programs, and 66% of the expenditures are one-time and dedicated to existing programs, invested into the Budget Stabilization Fund or contribute to the 1% increase in education funding.
Mills said several times that the priorities in the budget are bipartisan. In general, the budget calls for "setting aside money in the state's Rainy Day Fund to protect against an economic downturn; rebuilding and strengthening services that protect the health, safety and well-being of Maine families; and enhancing workforce and economic development to create a robust, skilled workforce that responds to the immediate needs of the educational and business community.”
The state services portion of the budget adds up to $69 million, the rest is workforce and economic development. Many of the specifics, including increasing the number of state troopers, upgrading wastewater infrastructure and providing grants to offset tuition debt, are proposals she made last year that the Legislature discarded.
The Legislature must approve the budget for it to take effect, and can amend any of the proposals.
Mills said the budget is balanced. "It does not create new programs. It takes care that one-time monies are used to fulfill our obligation to fund schools, child welfare and public safety with existing programs, while leaving $6 million in unallocated funds to be dealt with by the Legislature.
“As the Legislature puts their own fingerprints on this document, I ask that they do so with caution and care, balancing the health and safety of Maine families and our workforce needs with the long-term health of the state," she said.
In answer to questions from the media about what the priorities in the supplemental budget are, she said the items aren't ordered by priority, but all are things she's heard about from constituents and legislators.
"Public safety is important, child welfare is important, wastewater treatment is important, roads are important. Those are all priorities," she said. "The message is clear from the people of Maine. They don't want to see another child death that went unnoticed [by the Department of Health and Human Services], they don't want to see an hour-plus delay in a trooper getting to a motor vehicle crash scene to help save someone's life."
While Mills stressed the budget priorities bipartisan nature, reaction Monday was split down party lines, with Democrats supporting the budget and Republicans concerned about spending the state's surplus.
State Sen. Cathy Breen, D-Falmouth, chair of the Senate Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee, said, “The governor’s supplemental budget proposal provides a good foundation for our committee to get started. I look forward to working with my colleagues and really dig into this proposal. Together, I know we can come up with a commonsense proposal that makes smart investments where we need them most.”
But Sen. Dana Dow, R- Waldoboro, the Senate Republican leader, criticized the additional expenditures. “When the economy is good, you save up for times when it isn’t. With record revenues, this is not the time to borrow more money and expand the state’s $7.7 billion debt. The most recent revenue report from the state controller shows that revenues are a mere 0.3% higher than the budgeted amount. Even a slight downturn in the economy would wipe out this tiny cushion.”
Specifically, some of the things the supplemental budget calls for are: