Never mind those articles you have read saying Governor Janet Mills’ new state
budget increased spending by a record amount. The actual numbers in the budget that
show an increase of more than 10% in state spending, almost $1 billion don’t
that’s what it seemed like when she was asked about it during a recent radio
interview on The Mike Violette show on the Legacy 1160 WSKW radio station out
of Waterville, host Mike Violette asked Mills point blank about the state
budget, “Speaking of budgets and such, your budget that you and the legislature
agreed to is a billion dollars more than the last LePage budget. How do you
spend a billion dollars more?”
Mills tried to deflect, talking about the stabilization fund and payments to the federal government for the Riverview Psychiatric situation, even though she said earlier in the interview that the Riverview money was set aside before she ever took office.
billion dollars more. Would you agree it’s a billion dollars more?” interjected
“Uhhh. I can’t
assent to that because I’m not really sure that that’s accurate,” said Mills. “But,
regardless, the revenues are up, the revenue forecast was very robust and we’re
waiting for the next revenue forecast coming up next month.”
“But is that
a sustainable thing for you through your four years as Governor, to raise the
budget that much?” asked Violette.
about the budget – we talk about what we did on a bipartisan basis,” responded
out shopping and buying good things with that money, we’re paying back the
taxpayers,” said Mills.
In fact, there were a couple of changes in the state budget that expanded existing property tax exemptions for a narrow number of Mainers, but not enough to play a significant role in growing the state budget. The recently touted property tax rebates announced by the Maine State Treasurer and credited to Speaker Sara Gideon were actually drawn from a fund created under Governor Paul LePage before Gideon or Mills took office.
It was unclear from the interview what other pieces of her budget Mills was trying to claim were “paying back the taxpayers”, but a review of Mills budget shows income and sales tax rates were not reduced. The programs Mills cited as the justification for the size of her budget increase represents just a small fraction of the overall spending increase in the state budget.
Ironically, after claiming the revenue sharing was part of a $75 million “property tax relief” effort, Mills went on to say, “Now, I can’t control what the towns do with the money, necessarily.”
Mills also complained
about paying vacation and holiday pay to the appointees of Governor Paul LePage
that have left their jobs.
“That happens in every administration.”
“No, no, no it doesn’t,” said Mills, despite the fact that it is official state policy to pay employees for unused vacation and holiday pay at the end of their employment.
quickly moved on to talking about indigent legal services and other expenses
that had not been approved in previous state budgets.
“So let me
get this straight, you’re blaming some of this on LePage?” chuckled Violette.
In attempting to blame the spending on Governor Paul LePage, Mills described two expenses that amount to about 3% of her total state budget increase. She then moved to talk about how the state was spending $125 million in the state budget to draw down federal funds for health care.
Near the end
of the interview, Violette asked Mills why, if there was nearly $1 billion in
new spending in the state budget, did the state need to borrow $105 million to
fix the roads with a bond passed earlier in the month.
to shift the blame to the Maine Legislature’s Transportation Committee, “Look,
I did what the transportation committee recommended.”
statements from Republicans, including the ranking Republican on the Legislature’s
Transportation Committee, Senator Brad Farrin, show that they believe some of
the surplus from Mills’ budget should have been allocated to Maine’s roads and
asked a question about the lack of prioritization for transportation funding in
priority items did state government spend a billion dollars in surpluses and
budget increases on?”
As the interview neared conclusion, Mills said we need to do more reconstructing roads, not just resurfacing. Mills cited current national rankings of Maine’s roads as justification for that statement.
how the recent state budget spending increases, which did not provide any new
transportation funding, would accomplish any of the road reconstruction Mills
says is needed.
The interview ended without Governor Mills ever admitting how much her state budget actually increased spending or answering whether those increases are sustainable during her time as Governor.