Oped by Maine Governor Janet Mills
A year ago, I presented my Administration’s first biennial budget. That budget was based on HOPE – health, opportunity, prosperity, and education.
The Legislature then debated that proposal, negotiated some compromises and then they enacted – respectfully and in timely fashion – a balanced budget, with two-thirds bipartisan support, without raising any taxes.
Since that time, we’ve been very fortunate. Our economy has remained strong, with continued growth and record low unemployment. The economic forecast and the revenue projections are positive, with more than half of projected revenue being one-time funds, but a forecast that permits us now to identify specific needs to present to the Legislature in the form of a supplemental budget.
The supplemental budget I proposed this week reflects three bipartisan priorities:
- Setting aside money in the State’s Rainy Day Fund to protect us against an economic downturn;
- Strengthening those services that protect the health, safety and well-being of Maine families;
- Addressing our critical workforce needs and responding to the immediate needs of the educational and business communities.
In this budget I propose that we build on our state’s record-high Rainy Day Fund by setting aside another $20 million dollars of that projected surplus in savings. If that’s approved, the Budget Stabilization Fund will have grown by $50 million since I took office. That’s important savings for a Rainy Day.
Government is also about keeping people safe and protecting children and families so the supplemental requests 20 additional positions so we can respond to reports of child abuse or neglect, and it eliminates the current Section 29 waitlist for people with developmental disabilities while we work to improve services for all people with disabilities.
The budget also funds 14 new patrol officers and sergeants at the Maine State Police. The fact is, the number of state police patrol officers has not changed since the 1970’s, while traffic, technology and population have all grown. There are simply too few troopers to respond to car crashes, lost children and crime scenes.
The budget also invests in expanding Maine’s workforce to respond to the demands of the present and the needs of the future. So, it:
- funds short-term training programs through Maine’s community colleges; the Maine Apprenticeship Program; and Adult Education;
- invests in critical capital equipment like computers and forklifts for the career and technical education centers so that they can succeed in training our students in jobs that pay good wages. You know those CTEs haven’t had substantial funding for equipment since 1998. It’s time to get with the program;
- and the budget raises the state’s share of public education to nearly 52 percent for pre-K through 12 — that’s a two percent increase since I took office. And it makes whole our higher education institutions in the second year of the biennium.
I am also presenting a bond package to the Legislature, and asking them to let you, the voters, decide on $100 million in borrowing for transportation to fix the potholes and $15 million to bring high-speed internet to your towns.
This supplemental budget is balanced. It does not create new programs. It takes care that one-time monies are used for one time needs and that we fulfill our obligation within existing programs to take care of our schools, child welfare and public safety needs.
As the Legislature puts their own fingerprints on this document, I hope that they do so with caution, balancing the health and safety of Maine families and our workforce needs with the long-term health of the state.