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Sen. Jeff Timberlake: Maine Legislature has another 150 spending bills but we should live within our means

Following is the Weekly Republican Radio Address.

Now that we have returned for the second, so-called “Emergency Session” of this legislature, we have more than 600 bills to deal with before we adjourn. Almost 450 of these bills were carried over from the last session and another 175 are new bills. All are awaiting action by the House and Senate.

Hello, I am Senator Jeff Timberlake, Assistant Republican Leader in the Maine State Senate.

Of the bills carried over, there are nearly 150 on the “Special Appropriations Table,” meaning they have a cost associated with them. If these were all passed, they would add nearly a half billion more dollars to state spending.

While bills in the second session are supposed to be of an emergency nature, there are a few head-scratchers on this list. One of these would “Establish the Maine Spaceport Complex Leadership Council” and presumably the Spaceport itself, since Maine does not have one yet.

Another emergency bill would direct Maine’s Department of Transportation “to Erect and Maintain Markers to Commemorate and Recognize the Lafayette Trail.” Not that it’s not a good idea but is it a good idea but is it an emergency

Then, there are financial issues. How much money the Legislature has available to spend is usually determined by the reports of the state’s Revenue Forecasting Committee. Twice each year this committee meets to estimate how much revenue will be coming into state coffers during the current budget cycle. Their most recent report shows that there will be $116 million coming in that the state budget has not yet accounted for. In other words, a surplus.

At the same time, the Maine Department of Transportation tells us that they need an additional $160 million in order to properly repair our roads and bridges. Rather than look around for new things to spend the surplus on, and then having to borrow to fix our roads, Republicans believe we should dedicate most of this surplus to address the chronic under-funding of our transportation infrastructure. Two of our members of the Republican Senate Caucus are serving on the blue ribbon commission that is looking for a stable, long-term solution to our haphazard transportation funding process.

Another priority for our party remains the proper funding of nursing homes. Back in 2017, the state raised the minimum wage by $1.50 per hour. It has risen again three times since then. But the state has not sufficiently increased the reimbursement for Medicaid services to match the required increase in wages.

Since most nursing homes care for Maine Medicaid patients, the state has essentially required these facilities to raise their wages without providing them an increase in their revenue to match it. As a result, many nursing homes have closed in the last two years and more will follow if the state does not raise the reimbursement rate to cover the mandatory wage increase.

Fortunately, there is a short term solution to this problem. Since far fewer Mainers have signed up for the Medicaid expansion than anticipated, the Department of Health and Human Services has an excess of $31 million in Medicaid funds. This means there is more than enough money to cover the nursing home need, sitting in the bank and allocated for just this purpose.

We strongly urge Governor Mills to direct DHHS to divert the needed funds toward nursing facilities and if this requires new legislation, we stand ready to put it on the fast track to get it done and save more of these facilities from closure.

Using these existing funds to pay for nursing homes and our roads and bridges is critical going forward because the surging economic growth of the past eight years is coming to an end.

The latest report of the Revenue Forecasting Committee issued in December shows the annual growth in General Fund revenue for last year was 7.3%, but this year it will be just 2.8%. That’s a drop in growth of nearly two-thirds. In the second year of the current budget, they expect that growth to drop again to 2.1%.

With revenue growth leveling off and an uncertain economic future ahead, now is the time that state government must live within our means and not a time for borrowing, or raising new taxes, or finding new things to spend taxpayer dollars on. Again, I am Senator Jeff Timberlake, Assistant Republican Leader in the Maine State Senate wishing everyone a wonderful weekend stay warm and stay safe.