Maine’s new Democratic governor released some details Friday of her first two-year $8 billion budget proposal, which includes funding for the state’s Medicaid expansion.
Gov. Janet Mills, buoyed by Democratic control of the state’s House and Senate, wants to move forward on campaign promises to address health care access, the opioid crisis, education funding and economic development. Lawmakers will consider her proposals in coming months.
Mills said her budget is “fiscally responsible and pragmatic” enough to protect Maine’s rainy day fund and weather an economic downturn. She said she’s committed to no tax increases.
“In releasing this budget, there will be those who say this is government spending run amok, and on the other side, there will be those who say that state government must spend more, more, more,” Mills said to reporters Friday. “I respectfully disagree with both views.”
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to the Bradenton Herald
Mills’ budget represents an 11 percent increase over the current two-year $7.2 billion budget, which runs through June.
Republican leaders criticized the budget as too high of a starting point, noting that former Gov. Paul LePage originally proposed a $6.8 billion budget in 2017. But her proposals gained some support from top Democratic lawmakers, who technically have enough support now to pass a budget without Republican buy-in thanks to big wins last November.
Documents released Friday by Mills’ administration suggest there’s a small gap between how much the state’s bringing in and how much Mills is proposing to spend over the next two years.
State forecasters estimate Maine will bring in $7.9 billion in revenues between July and mid-2021, when the next two-year budget would take effect.
But finance commissioner Kirsten Figueroa said there will be more than enough money left over from this fiscal year to make up the difference. Mills’ administration said it would release more exact details, including the full budget proposal, in coming days.
Mills’ budget includes nearly $150 million for Maine’s share of voter-approved Medicaid expansion for at least 70,000 Mainers, while also setting aside an additional $29 million in a Medicaid reserve account. Mills said she’s expanded coverage to over 4,500 Mainers since January.
Other initiatives include filling more than two dozen public health nursing positions, increasing tobacco prevention efforts and a four-year plan to fund voluntary universal pre-kindergarten. She also wants to build a pre-release facility in Washington County to rehabilitate incarcerated Mainers and send more tax revenue back to municipalities.
Some Republican lawmakers said Mills’ call for a $40,000 minimum teacher salary across the state could lead to higher property taxes, while cautioning of higher-than-expected Medicaid enrollment.
“Revenues are rolling in, that’s a good thing,” said Republican Sen. James Hamper, of the Legislature’s appropriations committee. “The economy’s booming, great. But, we all know what happens. It goes up, it also goes down.”
Meanwhile, the liberal-leaning Maine Center for Economic Policy called Mills’ proposal a “mixed bag.” Executive director Garrett Martin said Mills’ budget would keep LePage-era tax cuts, while falling short of the voter-approved requirement for the state to provide 55 percent of school funding.
He said it’s now up to lawmakers to consider whether the state should increase revenues.
“Ultimately it’s going to be up to the Legislature to weigh the framework that she has provided,” Martin said.