AUGUSTA, Maine — Governor Janet Mills is expected to unveil a new state budget later this week. Mills has said she isn't looking to raise taxes, but it's clear she will be looking to increase some critical spending to meet key priorities. Republicans in the Legislature, on the other hand, are already raising a red flag about spending increases.
The budget controls almost everything state government does, so there’s a lot at stake in what the Governor proposes.
The current two year budget is about $7.2 billion, not including highways. But the Governor has already committed to expanding Medicaid, restoring revenue sharing to towns and cities, and doing more for the state to achieve 55 percent of school funding. Republicans in the Legislature are warning those priorities are likely to add hundreds of millions to the budget and are questioning whether Maine can afford it.
"The trend I'm seeing as you watch the calendar (Legislative daily list of bills) is spend, spend, spend," said Sen. Jim Hamper, lead Republican on the Appropriations Committee. "And you certainly can’t — we don’t have the resources. How long is the economy going to keep going at the pace it's going?"
But Democrats say there is a $126 million surplus now, and the revenue forecast indicates surpluses are expected to continue over the next several years. Democratic Rep. Drew Gattine, House chair of the Appropriations Committee, says state government can afford to do more.
"Given where we are right now with favorable revenue projections I think she (Gov. Mills) will be able to accomplish a lot of what she wants to accomplish, keeping that commitment to not propose a budget that raises taxes."
Besides the surplus funds, there is $270 million in Maine’s so-called rainy day fund. But Rep. Gattine says lawmakers should not touch that account, because the money "should be saved for a rainy day."
Republicans agree, says Sen. Hamper.
Governor Mills is expected to release her budget Friday and deliver a budget speech to the Legislature next Monday.