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February 4, 2020

Mills' $126M supplemental budget seeks to capitalize on strong Maine economy

Courtesy / Office of Governor Gov. Janet Mills, with her cabinet behind her, outlines her $126 million supplemental budget proposal for the 2020-21 fiscal year Monday.
What did the state's education and economic leaders have to say about the supplemental budget proposal?
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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.

All are priorities

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."

Party split

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:

State government

  • $20 million for the Budget Stabilization Fund.
  • $6 million on the table "for the Legislature to consider and direct as it sees fit."
  • $1.5 million for 20 new positions in DHHS "to respond quickly and effectively to reports of child abuse or neglect, which add to 62 that have already been approved.
  • $1.1 million to restore a forensic crisis team at DHHS that was scaled back by the LePage administration, that will work in partnership with the Department of Public Safety to divert people with severe mental illness from jail and emergency rooms and transition those already in prison back into the community.
  • $2.6 million to eliminate the Section 29 waitlist as the DHHS seeks to overhaul and improve the range and flexibility of services for adults in Maine with developmental disabilities, brain injury and autism.
  • $1.9 million for the Maine State Police to hire and deploy 10 new state troopers and four sergeants, something Mills also sought last year, but it was rejected by the Legislature.
  • $4.5 million for wastewater treatment facility planning and construction grants, as well as small community grants, through the Department of Environmental Protection, to upgrade and modernize failing infrastructure. This was proposed last year as part of Mills' initial bond package.
  • $4.5 million for the DEP to clean up sites polluted by abandoned hazardous substances and contaminants.
  • $910,000 for the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s Health and Environmental Testing Laboratory to support its capacity to test for and isolate biological, chemical or radiological hazards, such as lead, radiation or rabies.
  • $4 million for the Department of Defense, Veterans and Emergency Management to restore and modernize Maine National Guard Armories in Westbrook, Augusta and Lewiston. This was part of last year's bond package.
  • $10 million for the Department of Transportation to repair roads, bridges and other transportation infrastructure to boost the economy and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
  • $6 million for the Department of Administrative and Financial Services to repair and maintain state-owned properties in severe disrepair.
  • $6.6 million for the DAFS to enhance the state’s IT data security to better safeguard critical data from cyber attacks.
  • $1 million for the maintenance of structurally deficient dams owned by the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife.
  • $3.6 million for the Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry to replace critical equipment, including a helicopter to fight forest fires, and to provide for new positions, such as a food inspectors and seasonal employees to help safely operate the state park system.

Workforce, economic development

  • Raising the investment cap of the Maine Seed Capital Tax Credit from $5 million to $15 million at a cost of $1.3 million next fiscal year.
  • $3 million for capital equipment for Career & Technical Education Centers across the state that train high school students in the trades. "Everything from replacing computers to welding torches to automotive lists to diagnostic testing for nursing programs," Mills said. This was part of last year's bond package.
  • $5 million for "critical workforce needs," including short-term training through Maine Quality Centers, at Maine’s seven community colleges.
  • $1.3 million for the Department of Labor’s Maine Apprenticeship Program, which works with employers to provide on-the-job training and classroom instruction to fill workforce needs.
  • $2.4 million to enhance adult education programming through the Department of Education.
  • $3 million split evenly among the Departments of Economic and Community Development, Labor and Education for use in existing programs and collaboration to begin establishing the Maine Career Exploration Program outlined in the 10-year economic development plan that DECD released in December.
  • $37 million for pre-K-12 education, raising the state’s contribution from 50.78% to 51.78%, another step towards the 55% in state law. The contribution was 49.77% when Mills took office.
  • $6.8 million to restore the 3% increase proposed by Mills last year for the higher education systems to help stem tuition increases and invest in Maine students. A similar proposal was rejected by the Legislature last year.

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