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February 12, 2019

Reaction to Gov. Mills' budget: Pro and con

Courtesy / House Republicans Office Rep. H. Sawin Millett, R-District 71, is the former commissioner of the Department of Administrative and Financial Services under Gov. Paul R. LePage.

Here’s what people are saying about Gov. Janet Mills’ $8.04 billion biennial budget proposal:

Matthew Gagnon, CEO of Maine Heritage Policy Center:

“Instead of returning surplus revenues in the form of tax reductions, Gov. Mills’ proposal relies on nearly every penny of projected revenue over the next biennium, about $7.9 billion, with just $383,000 to spare after using a number of one-time funding sources and leftover surplus funds.

“Gov. Mills is pitching this to the Maine people as fiscal restraint, but nothing could be further from the truth. It spends nearly every penny of the money she thinks the government will take in over the period. If revenues are even marginally below expectations, she will have no choice but to raid the rainy day fund or raise taxes ....

“Spending almost every penny of projected revenue over a two-year period, when taking on new initiatives such as Medicaid expansion and universal pre-Kindergarten, is irresponsible and jeopardizes the strong fiscal condition of our state. Overall levels of spending in Gov. Mills’ budget proposal are far too ambitious for Maine over the next two years.”

Garrett Martin, executive director of Maine Center for Economic Policy:

“Gov. Mills’ budget plan makes progress on investments critical for Maine’s future, particularly in the area of health care. Those investments will improve the well-being of Mainers with low incomes and provide them an on-ramp to the economy.

“However, the budget lacks a solution to the state’s revenue challenges, resulting in a continued inability to make investments necessary for families and communities to thrive. These revenue challenges were caused by tax policies established under Gov. Paul LePage, which resulted in underfunded schools, cuts to local and state services, and an upside-down tax code where the top 1% pays less per dollar in state and local taxes than any other group. This budget cycle, the state is missing $864 million because of those tax cuts, which primarily benefit the wealthiest households.

“By maintaining LePage-era tax cuts, this budget does not provide the necessary resources to fully fund education and local services. As budget negotiations unfold in the coming weeks, MECEP will continue to advocate for a real, practical conversation on how to address the revenue challenges created during the LePage years so we can finally make real investments in good schools, good jobs, healthy families and thriving communities.”

David R. Clough, state director for NFIB, the leading small business association in Maine with thousands of members in the state:

“We are grateful to Gov. Janet Mills for encouraging Maine’s economic growth by rejecting any new or higher taxes and fees. It will result in a signal to small business owners that the governor apparently does not have a tax-and-spend approach.

“There is some worry that today's tax and fee relief could become tomorrow’s tax and fee grief, especially if we run into another slowdown or recession. The two-year budget increases spending by more than 11%, and while there is positive economic news today, caution is in order because economic conditions can change.

“A key problem of small businesses today is the inability to hire qualified workers, and the governor’s plan to address the labor shortage is welcome. Any workforce initiative must be wisely crafted and address filling the job openings that exist today.”

“We look forward to learning more details about planned increases in K-12 education funding. While it’s important young Mainers are better prepared for the jobs of tomorrow, we must be sure those investments will produce the desired results.”

Robyn Merrill, executive director of Maine Equal Justice:

“The budget released by Gov. Mills today takes positive steps to support low-income Mainers. It recognizes that poverty and child hunger threaten our state and prioritizes rebuilding the Department of Health and Human Services. It protects medical coverage for more than 5,000 19- and 20-year-olds. It also restores coverage for many low-income people who depend on the Medicare Savings Program, which provides wrap-around prescription drug coverage and medical coverage for seniors and people with disabilities.

“Overall we’re optimistic that Mainers with low-incomes will have greater opportunities and better access to essential supports like health care under this budget. That’s good news for families with low incomes and all Mainers, because poverty impacts all of us.

The budget also reflects the governor’s strong commitment to ensuring that 70,000 Maine people get the health care they need — and that voters made law — under Medicaid expansion.

“Maine voters went to the polls in 2017 and said overwhelmingly that Medicaid expansion was their priority. Now, Gov. Mills is bringing that vision to life in her budget, and together with the Legislature, which also supported funding for Medicaid expansion last year, the law will finally be fully and sustainably implemented.”

Joint statement of James Erwin, chairman of the University of Maine System board of trustees, and UMaine Chancellor James Page:

Gov. Janet Mills FY 20-21 budget proposal includes new funding that will expand the University of Maine System’s capacity to address critical state workforce needs. Resources proposed in the governor’s spending plan will also help lower the cost and debt burden for students preparing for Maine careers through the state’s public universities campus and community-based programs. Funding is also provided that will increase Maine career exploration through the expanding network of local high schools offering early college programing in partnership with the University of Maine System.

Erwin added: “Maine’s public universities are committed to an efficient and cost-effective continuum of public education that provides the people of Maine with access to flexible, relevant 21st Century learning from early childhood to retirement. Gov. Mills’ budget proposal provides strong support for the ongoing work of the universities. It also provides new resources for initiatives that facilitate learning and skill development when and where they are most needed by the people of Maine and our employer community.”

Page added: “Our institutions have worked as one university to build a statewide capacity for collaboration and resource deployment in focused support of our students, communities and employers. On behalf of our staff, faculty and students I want to thank Gov. Mills for proposing a budget that advances this work and our shared commitment to educate, inspire, and serve the people of Maine.”

Rep. H. Sawin Millett, R-District 71, former commissioner of the Department of Administrative and Financial Services under Gov. Paul R. LePage:

“Through hard work and a commitment to living within taxpayer means, Republicans delivered to Gov. Mills a robust, growing economy, money in the bank, low debt and a sound state budget.

“We must maintain a healthy economy that reaches even more people, including working families and much of rural Maine. It is critical that we:

  • Avoid tax or fee increases. Lower taxes have produced more revenue for the State budget. The most recent general revenue forecast by the Revenue Forecasting Committee (the 2020-21 biennium), has been revised upward by $263.2 million (3.52%). This is another example of how our economy has greatly improved over the last eight years.
  • Ensure that Medicaid expansion for single, able-bodied, childless adult has a sustainable funding source that doesn’t take resources from Maine’s truly needy. Taking one time monies from the $21 million tobacco cessation fund is not wise or sustainable, especially in the face of a youth vaping epidemic. We must also recognize that the federal match continually declines, requiring additional Maine taxpayer resources in future years.
  • Live within our means by setting priorities, so that we focus on the core mission of government and not try to be everything to everybody. “When everything is a priority, nothing is a priority.” We need to ensure that Maine’s most vulnerable citizens are our first priority.
  • Avoid unnecessary debt that lowers our credit rating and increases our borrowing costs. The state of Maine general obligation bond debt is currently $376 million. Without hearing from the governor, legislators have already submitted over $1.57 billion in new debt requests. New debt requests are increases every day. For the governor’s budget to be sustainable going forward, we must avoid a rapid increase in debt payments and the higher interest costs that will result from a lower credit rating.
  • Ensure that all budget decisions are transparent and provide data upon which results can be measured. This is a concern when one party rule is combined with a news media that is now sympathetic rather than skeptical of government decisions. Taxpayers and citizens have a right to know how their money is spent and whether or not it is efficient and effective."

“When the governor’s budget is released and moves through the legislative process, it is unclear what level of involvement Republicans will be given. In order to meet the governor’s promise of ‘One Maine,’ Republicans need to be part of the solution.

“Republicans will be willing partners in supporting the pro-growth economic and fiscal policies that are producing results for all Mainers. We will oppose a return to the irresponsible practices that left our bills unpaid, our accounts empty, state employees working without pay, taxpayers financially strapped and an economy in ruins.”

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