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John “Jack” Ducharme, R-Madison, represents District 71 in the Maine House of Representatives. He is a member of the Committee on Appropriations and Financial Affairs.
Maine’s biennial budget process has kicked off in a manner that is both typical and not. Typical in that Republicans will, once again, call for tax cuts and reductions to the governor’s $10.3 billion spending proposal. Atypical in that since the state began fully funding the state’s 55 percent of education costs in 2022, this biennial budget must be trimmed to just below $9.9 billion, to adhere to a spending cap.
A 2005 law, introduced and signed by then Gov. John Baldacci, limits year-over-year state government spending growth, established the Maine Budget Stabilization Fund and set targets for tax burden reductions. It was a comprehensive bill to limit out-of-control spending and provide for tax relief while prioritizing education. It received support from both parties, including then-Rep. Janet Mills. While the general fund limit has existed since 2005, it excluded state aid to education until the 55 percent funding target was reached.
What’s also atypical is that a “baseline” budget of $9.4 billion funds increases to programs like general purpose aid for schools and free school meals, and restores appropriations to the Homestead Property Tax Exemption. It would not cut services, and is more than $1 billion higher than the last biennial budget passed in 2021.
Gov. Mills proposes changing the statutory spending limit to be (conveniently) exactly what her budget would spend. It’s a move that is fiscally irresponsible and at odds with the political reality of recent years. Further, the proposed budget is based on higher revenue projections than may be realized given the fragility of the economy.
Staying under the statutory limit would require only a 4 percent reduction from the governor’s budget proposal. This should be the starting point for discussion and provides a framework to achieve the statutory limit. In the coming weeks, Republicans will be requesting that departments provide their recommendations for the necessary reductions. Additionally, we will continue to examine various tax cut proposals (coming from Republican and Democratic members) to end the recent trend of excess tax collection.