Rep. Millett: Governor Janet Mills spends on “wants” not “needs”, core priorities overlooked

Rep. Sawin Millett (R – Waterford) is widely recognized as one of Maine’s top state budget experts.

Following is the Weekly Republican Radio Address.

Hello, this is Sawin Millett, State Representative from Waterford.

I serve as the House Republican Lead on the Appropriations Committee.

The Governor recently released her proposed Supplemental Budget.

House Republicans are pleased to hear her at least mention some of the core priorities that were not addressed in the rush to pass an $8 billion budget last June.

That budget is 11% larger than the last one, and relied heavily on one-time surplus funds from prior years.

Our view is that large spending increases, coupled with a heavy reliance on one-time monies will likely result in increased taxes in future years.

This is especially true if the economy slows, or there is a major emergency.

For months, Republicans have pointed out that core priorities such as our roads and bridges, nursing homes, and individuals with disabilities on wait lists have been overlooked in favor of spending on new priorities that focus on “wants” rather than “needs.”

The Governor’s supplemental budget proposes to spend an additional $126 million, $46 million of which are one-time monies.

I will focus on a few of areas where Republicans have concerns:

Our aging transportation infrastructure:

The Maine DOT has indicated that our transportation infrastructure is underfunded by $232 million annually.

The Administration recently stated that MDOT is “managing the decline” of our transportation network.

In the face of this crisis, the Governor proposes to allocate a mere $10 million of her Supplemental Budget to address the need to “fix the damn roads.”

Of that request, $8 million is earmarked for road and bridge monies, but is intended to support the Governor’s climate initiatives, with $2 million going to multimodal transportation.

The Blue Ribbon Commission on transportation funding says that $160 million is needed just to address 2/3rds of the projected shortfall.

We question why the Governor is not allocating more General Fund monies to the DOT. House Republicans believe a much greater portion of available one-time monies should go to fill this transportation-funding gap.

The Governor will also propose $100 million in new borrowing for transportation. This is in addition to the $105 million voters just approved last fall. The reliance on borrowing for roads and bridges is precisely the approach that experts say is not addressing the problem adequately and sustainably.

Maine’s current General Obligation bond debt is over $540 million, with more than $200 million in bonds that are authorized, but not yet issued.

These existing bonds will require debt service of nearly $130 million next year.

We should not rely on increased borrowing to meet current needs, even when interest rates are favorable while passing that future debt on to our children.

Waitlists for individuals with disabilities:

The Governor proposes to eliminate the Section 29 waitlist for disabled people with the most severe need for services. The Section 29 waiver provides both in-home and other supportive services and for these needy clients.

That part of the Governor’s proposal is encouraging.

Republicans are interested in a comprehensive approach to better serve the wait list population in a more effective, targeted and sustainable manner.

Nursing Homes, Assisted Care Facilities and Direct Care Workers:

The Governor did not designate any money to address the crisis highlighted by last week’s closure of Home Care for Maine, a 350 employee, non-profit agency providing services to 500-600 seniors throughout Maine.

The rapid increase in the minimum wage and low reimbursement rates were the major factors in this closure.

Nursing Homes and Assisted Living facilities are finding it difficult to attract employees to fill direct care positions that have demanding workloads in a tight labor market where starting pay is constantly being inflated by state mandates.

These nonprofit Direct Care facilities need to be able to offer a competitive salary and benefit package in order to attract and retain employees. This must be a priority for the Administration and the Legislature.

In 2018, 6 nursing home closed. If this problem is not addressed, we can expect more closures in the near future, placing our most vulnerable citizens at risk.

Growing the size of state government:

The Governor is proposing to add dozens of new state employees.

Republicans will carefully review all proposed new positions in order to determine whether they address multiple “wants” or priority “needs.”

For example – the Governor is proposing to hire 20 new DHHS workers in addition to the 62 new ones created in the state budget.

These include:

-16 Child Protective Caseworkers

-2 Customer Service Reps.

-2 Caseworker Supervisors

House Republicans certainly understand the reasoning behind these requests, but want to make sure we are also providing adequate wrap-around services for vulnerable children that have been taken into state custody. 

The proposed Supplemental Budget also requests 10 new State Troopers and 4 Sergeants.

We are waiting to receive briefings as to what the purpose of these positions are.  Are they for new specialty services at the state level, and would these changes result in, reduced public safety coverage in rural areas?

The Governor emphasized that the Supplemental Budget does not include any tax increases. However, she assumes the passage of LD 2011, which will soon tax digital streaming services and result in a projected net increase of $3.27 million tax dollars per year.

The Supplemental Budget, like the $8 billion budget that was passed last June, seeks to grow the size and scope of government without properly taking care of core priorities first, and will almost certainly result in increases in the baseline budget for future years.

Maine House Republicans will continue to call for lower taxes, less borrowing, and responsible budgeting that is focused on meeting “needs” before “wants.”

This has been State Representative Sawin Millett with the Weekly Republican Radio Address.       

Thank you for listening.

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