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Rep. Millett: Gov. Mills’ budget sets Maine up for shortfalls, tax increases

Rep. Sawin Millett has served six terms in the Maine Legislature, including time on the Appropriations Committee. Rep. Millett also served as Governor Paul LePage’s Commissioner of the Department of Administrative and Financial Services.

Following is the weekly radio address from the Maine House Republicans. At the end of this piece is the audio version of the address for your listening pleasure.

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

Republicans on the Appropriations Committee have reviewed the $8.04 billion General Fund budget proposed by Governor Mills.  We believe that it lacks a long-term vision for Maine and is unsustainable.

Governor Mills has released her budget after repeatedly promising that it would provide “sustainable” funding for the massive expansion of Medicaid without new taxes.  This budget delivers on her expansion promise – along with a collection of other campaign promises – but it lacks a long-term fiscal vision and is unsustainable in both the short and long term.  

Republicans will work in good faith to help fix it by offering constructive and responsible alternatives, if given the opportunity.

The budget that the Governor has submitted represents an 11.3 percent increase over the current $7.2 billion biennial budget.  It spends the budget surplus accumulated under the LePage administration, uses transfers from other one-time funding sources and relies on overly optimistic future revenue assumptions.  This, after the Governor herself has warned of a possible future recession.

Mills is making good on her campaign promise to expand Medicaid. She promised to identify a sustainable source for funding, but her budget does not do this.  It relies on one-time monies and, we believe, significantly understates the true cost of expansion down the road – as evidenced by her proposed one-time transfer of $29 million from the MaineCare Stabilization Fund as a Reserve against potential cost overruns.

Because of this, Mills’ proposal sets up Maine for budget shortfalls and future tax increases if projected revenues fall short and Medicaid enrollment and costs exceed current estimates.  Nearly all available funds, both one-time transfers and current revenue projections are relied upon to fund her budget.

Because of this, Mills’ proposal sets up Maine for budget shortfalls and future tax increases if projected revenues fall short and Medicaid enrollment and costs exceed current estimates.

Rep. Sawin millett (R-Waterford)

The second year of the biennium spends $62.6 million more than is available for that year and the projected balance at the end of the biennium is less than $400,000. These one-time funding sources will not be available in future years, leaving no margin for error if projections turn out to be wrong.

The proposed budget should also worry local towns and property taxpayers. Projected Revenue Sharing to municipalities is greatly reduced to make her budget look balanced on paper. Instead of increasing to the 5 percent in current law, it is reduced to an anemic one half percent more than last year’s level.  Even if revenue sharing were to be fully funded, there is no guarantee that new money to towns will actually reduce property taxes, for, as we know, those decisions are made at the local level.   

We all support higher teacher salaries, but the proposed $40,000 minimum teacher salary could be an underfunded mandate that comes back to bite towns and cities in the form of higher taxes.  The proposal to include $10 million – to be run through the EPS formula – in fiscal year 21 will likely fall far short of the true cost of adjusting locally negotiated salary schedules to reflect a higher starting salary – particularly in rural Maine and in “low receiver” school systems.  Our initial conversations with local school officials support this conclusion, and include real concerns that the local impact will continue long after the $10 million formula pass-through is gone.   

The Mills budget is the first step in what will be a long process leading to a final budget.  Republicans find it worrisome that budgets submitted by governors typically increase as they move through the legislative process. A flurry of new spending requests, hundreds of millions proposed by legislators, and bond bills, now at $1.6 billion and climbing, are also not included in this proposed spending plan.

A flurry of new spending requests, hundreds of millions proposed by legislators, and bond bills, now at $1.6 billion and climbing, are also not included in this proposed spending plan.

Rep. sawin millett (R-Waterford)

Republicans are unsure what level of budget involvement we will be given.  To meet the Governor’s promise of “One Maine,” Republicans need to be part of the solution.  We wonder if Republicans are expected to be the “responsible adults” in the spending debate.  We need to be involved in setting spending priorities for, as we all know, “if everything is a priority, nothing is a real priority.”

There are areas in this budget where Republicans believe we can find common ground.  Addressing the opioid epidemic, better outreach services for veterans, addressing long wait lists for providing services to disabled adults, providing real property tax relief, addressing the projected workforce shortage, and responsibly funding Medicaid expansion, are such examples.

Republicans want to ensure our economy continues to grow, benefiting even more individuals, families and businesses.  We will oppose a return to the irresponsible spending and borrowing practices that left our bills unpaid, our accounts empty, state employees working without pay, taxpayers financially strapped and an economy in ruins.

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

Thank you for listening.

Listen to the Republican weekly radio address from Rep. Sawin Millett.

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. 

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