Tuesday, 08 January 2019 18:46

Appropriations Committee may need to 'pump the brakes' Featured

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AUGUSTA - Sustainable funding that doesn't raise taxes is the goal of both parties in Augusta, but reaching a consensus on what to pay for and how to pay it may be a challenge.

Both Democrats and Republicans have their own ideas on what should be included in the upcoming budget.


“We finished the last budget cycle in very good financial position for the state,” said State Sen. Catherine Breen (D)-Falmouth, senate chair on the Appropriations Committee. “We have a healthy rainy-day fund. We have a healthy surplus.”


“The expectations are really really high,” she added later. “So it's going to be important for our committee to be very, very strategic and we are probably the committee that is going to have to pump the brakes.”


“Really, the focus is on spending and tax rates,” said State Sen. James Hamper (R)-Oxford. “We got money in the bank and therefore the inclination will be to spend that money in the bank. I'm concerned about spending but also the legacy costs of that spending. What will that spending now cost us in the future.”


State law says, Gov. Janet Mills has until Feb. 8 to submit her 2-year budget, but she has already said it will arrive early. She offered up a draft in her inaugural speech and spent her first day in office signing an executive order to expand Medicaid.


“We certainly have Medicaid expansion that we need to fund sustainable,” Breen said. “We have our priorities still to get to 55 percent of state aid to education and there is certainly a lot of health needs. The Department of Health and Human Services will definitely need some refreshing.”


Hamper said fully funding the 55 percent for schools will cost taxpayers.


“That is a continually moving target but the last estimates were around $148 million dollars,” he said.


Add that to the cost of providing healthcare to Mainers who make less than $17,000 a year, and it's easy to see the appropriation committee will have a lot to consider.


“There was no mention in the inaugural about one of the things I've heard about ...  fully funding of municipal revenue sharing,” Hamper said. “Where during the LePage administration we ratcheted that back to 2 percent of the 5 percent we collect on sales tax. And that is scheduled, on July 1, to go back up to 5 percent. That's a $200 million dollar price tag.”


There is a silver lining to the next budget cycle, Breen said.


“We also have an administration who is ready to work with us, so I'm ready to roll up my sleeves and get to work,” she said.


It seems the goals for both parties are pretty clear.

Nit-Noi Ricker

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Nit-Noi Ricker is an Army brat who grew up on a farm in Winterport. She went to the University of Maine and the University of Northern Texas to learn how to be a journalist and started her career in Arizona at the Williams-Grand Canyon News, ...