Republicans are anxiously awaiting the release of Governor Mills’ first State budget. We hope that it fulfills the Governor’s repeated promise, that it will provide “sustainable” funding for the massive expansion of health insurance, especially for single, able-bodied, childless adults, without containing new taxes.
Before the details are released, it is important to reflect on where we are today and how Governor LePage and Republicans have put Maine in the strongest economic position it has seen in decades.
In 2010, Maine was teetering on the brink of financial ruin. As the incoming Commissioner of the Department of Administrative and Financial Services, I vividly remember the challenges that the new administration faced. Governor LePage inherited an $800 million budget shortfall from his predecessor. Medicaid had a biennial budget deficit of more than $200 million, and our state owed the hospitals $750 million.
Governor Mills begins her term with Medicaid on sustainable financial footing; it has not run a shortfall in years, and we no longer owe hospitals money. Republican leadership resulted in a $1 billion turnaround.
Maine now has a record high number of businesses, record high worker participation and record low unemployment. Wages have risen, fewer people are on welfare and we have fewer children living in poverty.
Our Budget Stabilization Fund (‘Rainy Day fund’) has a record level balance of $272.9 million, equal to 8% of Annual General Fund expenditures, a ratio better than the average among AAA credit-rated states. This is important in case there is a future economic downturn,
Through hard work and a commitment to living within taxpayer means, Republicans delivered to Governor 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:
(1) 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 2020-2021 biennium), has been revised upward by $263.2 million (3.52 percent). This is another example of how our economy has greatly improved over the last eight years.
(2) Ensure that Medicaid expansion for single, able-bodied, childless adults 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;
(3) 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,
(4) 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; and
(5) 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.
Going into 2019, our State’s economy and budget is sound because of hardworking Mainers and Republican leadership. We will work responsibly to make it even stronger.
Rep. H. Sawin Millett (R-Waterford), a farmer and former educator, represents District 71: Norway, Sweden, Waterford and West Paris. He previously served six terms in the Legislature (104-105th and 121-124th) and has a lengthy public service career that includes service on the Joint Standing Committee on Appropriations and as Governor Paul R. LePage’s Commissioner of the Department of Administrative and Financial Services.