Update From Augusta
by Dist. 92 Rep. Matt Peterson
Maine’s New Two-Year Budget
Always the centerpiece of any legislative session, the Maine legislature passed and the Governor has signed a new two-year budget which will govern state spending and impact many of the aspects of our lives -- including education, transportation, public safety, health and taxes.
There was no doubt that we started the budget discussions in a hole -- with an estimated budget shortfall of over $800 million dollars if we held all spending levels according to the Revenue Forecasting Committee. That did not even take into account the new needs and priorities that were emerging. To put that shortfall in context -- the final budget that was passed was $6.1 billion, so the estimated shortfall as we began the process was very significant.
At the same time, it was not only the state that was feeling the budget pinch -- all of Maine’s municipalities were being pressed too -- with rising costs, particularly for health care and energy. The result was that reductions on the state level would have a ripple effect for local government and for local taxpayers, too.
Against this backdrop, Governor LePage presented a budget that would make deep cuts in many programs -- particularly in health and human services and in sharing expenses with municipalities through general assistance, revenue sharing and school funding. At the same time, the Governor was proposing a significant tax cut for Maine’s wealthiest individuals and some Maine businesses.
The Appropriations Committee went to work against a backdrop of shifting proposals as additional shortfalls and expenses were identified and the Governor introduced a change package that included even deeper cuts and more changes to programs. Given the timing of the budget negotiations, it was necessary to pass the budget by a 2/3rds majority so it would take effect at the beginning of the fiscal year -- July 1st.
Since January, I have received dozens of phone calls and hundreds of emails from residents of District 92. The overwhelming majority of these contacts were from individuals asking me to oppose the budget. I continued to participate in the budget compromise process and engage with our neighbors to learn more about the potential impacts of this budget here at home in the River Valley and the rest of the district.
At the end of the process, many compromises were reached and some of the more drastic cuts in services were restored, but other important areas remained unfunded or underfunded. I had pledged to support a budget that did not shift more burdens to our local governments and local taxpayers -- while setting priorities in key areas including education, transportation and services for Maine’s most vulnerable citizens -- seniors, children and people with a disability.
Ultimately, I was not convinced that the budget proposed by the Committee would meet those goals. While the final product was a great improvement over the Governor’s original proposals, I did not think it provided enough protections for local governments and would result in hardships -- either cutbacks in local services or local property tax increases. As a result, I went against the leadership of my caucus and voted against the budget, because I believed we could have found a better balance.
I hope that this new budget does not end up shifting a greater responsibility to local governments for services, or place our most vulnerable citizens at greater risk. As the budget is implemented and programs are reconfigured, we will see the results of these new approaches. I am sure that the conversation will continue, as the Governor has already committed to coming back in the next session with new proposals that will further change Maine’s budget priorities.
I always enjoy hearing from you about issues, concerns, or ways that I can be of assistance. I am here to represent you -- and I do that best if I know what you are thinking. You can reach me by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org, or call me at 776-8051.