Being governor is often about having to say “no.” Advocacy groups, political friends and foes, heads of state departments and agencies often want something from the governor, frequently involving money.
It falls to the governor, like the head of any large organization, to prioritize what state government can and cannot do. That prioritization is then, likely, adjusted by the state Legislature.
In a budget address on Tuesday, Gov. Janet Mills said her biennial budget and supplemental budget proposals have three basic goals: keeping Maine people healthy and saving lives during the ongoing pandemic; funding education; and keeping the state’s economy stable and getting people back to work.
At a time of continued uncertainty, but increasing hope that the pandemic — and the accompanying need for restrictions — are easing, these are the right priorities.
That’s resulted in a straightforward budget proposal with small amounts of new funding earmarked for education, mental health and substance use disorder, and pandemic response, including vaccinations.
For the future, Mills has offered a $111 million bond package that would direct borrowed funds to broadband, career training, traditional industries and, for the first time, child care.
It has also meant a lot of saying “no.” No to big spending increases. No to significant funding cuts.
“Now, I have heard the calls of those who say we should enact sweeping budget cuts,” Mills said in the budget address delivered via video on Tuesday night. “I agree that state government cannot be all things to all people all the time. And that it cannot solve all our problems or address the needs of all people. But history has shown that we cannot cut our way to prosperity. During emergencies such as this, people depend on us to protect children, to secure health care, to safeguard educational and career opportunities and to protect the most vulnerable of our citizens.”
“Now, I have also heard the calls of those who say we must spend a lot more, even if it means we must dip into our savings,” she added. “This, too, we should not do.”
Instead, the governor said, she proposed a budget that “provides basic continuity, consistency and stability, something our state needs at this time. It is focused on recovery.”
As we’ve written before, it is a relief that Mills’ $8.4 billion budget proposal for the next two years does not contain significant cuts or eliminations of vital programs or tax increases even as the coronavirus pandemic continues to disrupt lives and impact the state and national economy. It’s also encouraging that, while not out of the woods yet, state revenues continue to do better than grim projections from earlier in the pandemic.
As a result, the governor’s plans give state lawmakers a solid framework from which to build sustainable, balanced budgets for the remainder of this fiscal year and for the next two.
Her bond proposals, unveiled on Tuesday, also offer a blueprint for strategic investments in Maine’s people and the state’s economic future.
We are particularly pleased that Mills has proposed that $6 million in bond funds be used to increase the state’s child care capacity. A recent report found that more than a quarter of children in rural Maine live in “child care deserts,” where eligible young children outnumber licensed slots by three-to-one or more. Ensuring families have access to child care can increase workforce participation and help young children prepare for school.
Mills also proposed $30 million for an expansion of broadband, a needed investment that will build on the $15 million bond approved by voters last year.
Mills has built a straightforward budget proposal with solid priorities. While the process has required her to say “no” to ideas and ideologies on both the political right and left, the resulting framework is something lawmakers in both parties should be able to say “yes” to.