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Maine GOP Worries Mills' Budget Proposal Is Unsustainable

Joel Page
AP Photo
The Statehouse is seen in 2014 in Augusta, Maine.

Democratic Gov. Janet Mills has released her proposed two-year state budget that she says responds to what Mainers told her during the campaign. Republican lawmakers, though, say the budget is unsustainable and relies too heavily on one-time money.

Mills says that the more than $8-billion state budget proposal provides funding for Medicaid expansion, increases in education spending, and for the restoration of cuts in programs made under the administration of Republican Gov. Paul LePage. She says her proposal reflects what voters told her they want.

“They do not expect a tax increase, they do not want a tax increase,” Mills says. “They want to see a fiscally responsible budget. They also want to see more state funding for education, for health care and public safety.”

Mills acknowledges that the proposed spending of $8 billion-$41 million is higher than projected revenues over the next two years, which stands at just over $7.9 billion. Mills says the difference will be made up from unspent funds carried over from this budget year.

“In a word, our reaction is unsustainable,” says GOP State Sen. Jim Hamper of Oxford , who serves on the Appropriations Committee.

Hamper says under Mills’ plan, the state could face significant budget problems just two years from now.

Republicans also question the cost estimates assigned to some of Mills’ proposals. The voter approved expansion of Medicaid to another 70,000 plus Mainers is pegged at just under $145 million. Rep. Sawin Millett, a Republican from Waterford who also serves on appropriations, says the estimates discussed last year were significantly higher and the cost could be a lot more than Mills expects.

“Looking at it from the point of view of maximum utilization, it could push $100 million,” Millett says. “So either there is an assumption that fewer people will be signing up and fewer instances of care given.”

Mills has proposed setting aside $29 million in case Medicaid expenditures grow more than expected. Republicans worry that amount will not be enough. They also say some proposals, such as increasing the minimum wage for teachers to $40,000 per year may cause local school costs to go up because the Mills’ budget does not propose enough of an increase in state subsidies to pay for it.

Sen. Jeff Timberlake of Turner is the assistant state senate minority leader.

“The$40,000 teacher minimum wage, the potential of increasing local property taxes really accelerates,” he says.

Timberlake and other republicans were quick to say they have not seen the budget with all its details and expect to raise other concerns.

Democratic leaders of the Appropriations Committee released a statement praising the budget, but also cautioned that the governor’s proposal is the start of the budget writing process, and they want to hear from the public about spending priorities. Mills will address a joint convention of the legislature Monday evening on her budget proposal.