AUGUSTA, Maine — Governor Janet Mills is proposing a new, two-year state budget that would be the first to reach the eight billion dollar mark. She insists the dollar amount is sustainable, while Republicans argue that it’s not.
The $8.04 billion budget is over $700 million more than the current two-year budget. Gov. Mills said her goal is to meet multiple priorities, while avoiding tax or fee increases -- because voters told her that in the campaign.
"I continue to hear from people of Maine (that) they do not expect a tax increase, they do not want a tax increase. They want to see a fiscally responsible budget and also want to see more funding for education health care and public safety, as simple as that."
The biggest single increase in the budget is for the Governor’s top priority: health care and Medicaid Expansion. Mills is proposing more than $140 million to cover the state share of expansion costs, plus creating a $29 million Medicaid reserve fund.
Education, another top Mills campaign priority, would get an additional $126 million for K-12 schools, through the state’s school funding formula. The Governor is also proposing a new minimum base pay for teachers of $40,000.
"We will treat our teachers with the respect they deserve," the Governor told reporters.
There is roughly $40 million in added funds for municipal revenue sharing, which was slashed under the LePage administration. That, plus five million more for the Homestead Exemption program, are targeted at reducing local property tax burdens.
Mills, who just this week announced new efforts to battle opioid drugs, is also proposing another $5.3 million for the drug fight.
The Governor says she is confident the budget can work, and financial advisors say there should be more than enough money coming in from tax revenues to pay for all the things in the budget.
Republicans, who have been calling for financial restraint for weeks, disagree.
"In a word, our reaction is unsustainable," said GOP Sen. Jim Hamper, the leading Republican on the Appropriations Committee. Hamper and fellow committee member Rep. Sawin Millett say the most recent state revenue forecast predicted additional money coming in to state coffers, but not enough to meet the $8 billion total.
"We kind of feel we’re being asked to take this budget, with 11 percent increase, and bring it down to reality," said Millett.
Republicans are a distinct minority in the current Legislature, but some GOP votes will be needed to eventually pass the budget.
Democrats praised the Governor but stopped short of embracing the entire proposed budget.
"In the Senate, we’ve committed to working to lower property taxes, improve health care -- cost, quality and accessibility -- and invest in fair, good-paying jobs, education and workforce development," said Senate President Troy Jackson in a written statement.
Gov. Mills will address a joint session of the Legislature Monday night to explain her budget.
Lawmakers will then begin what is expected to be a months-long process of reviewing and revising the budget in detail.