Governor, Mills have yet to release LePage budget proposal
AUGUSTA, Maine (AP) — Never one to follow convention, Republican Gov. Paul LePage was unable to resist sharing some budgetary insights with his Democratic successor— to the tune of hundreds of pages of suggestions.
LePage has said his fully fleshed out proposal includes ambitious proposals for either repealing voter-Medicaid expansion or paying for Maine’s share by increasing taxes on hospitals, along with his goal of eliminating the state’s income tax.
It’s unlikely that Democratic Gov.-elect Janet Mills or the Democratic-controlled Legislature would support any of the governor’s more fiscally conservative proposals. But the details of LePage’s budget could be a starting point for Mills’ own budget, which is due in February.
For now, all of the details are being kept secret. LePage’s office and the Department of Administrative and Financial Services haven’t responded to numerous emails, texts and calls over the past week. Mills’ spokesman Scott Ogden said Friday the transition team will provide a copy.
Mario Moretto, communications director for the liberal-leaning Maine Center for Economic Policy, said the public has a right to see LePage’s budget proposal. But LePage’s plans aren’t likely relevant to upcoming budget debates.
“It’s Janet Mills, not Paul LePage who will make the next governor’s budget,” Moretto said.
Outgoing Maine governors typically hand their successors a baseline budget proposal, while their cabinets prepare briefing books for the incoming administration, according to David Farmer, former deputy chief of staff and director of communications for former Gov. John Baldacci.
“The new administration doesn’t start from scratch. They come in and they have to make in a very short amount of time a lot of big decisions in regards to the top lines of the budget,” Farmer said.
The governor has long complained that Maine’s budget process doesn’t give incoming governors enough time to craft a budget proposal.
He said he wants Mills’ administration to succeed and that his administration is providing “anything and everything” that her transition team wants.
“We’re going to leave everything so they can walk in and make it as easy a transition as possible,” LePage told WVOM-FM. “The only difference is we think differently.”
In October, LePage’s administration said the governor’s budget would propose reducing municipal revenue sharing, putting more school funding into the classroom and consolidating administrative costs.
LePage is leaving Mills in a more stable fiscal situation than his predecessor. The state’s set to see an additional $362 million in unexpected additional revenue through the fiscal year ending in 2021 thanks to increased revenues from individual income tax, corporate income tax, and sales and use tax.
But despite such healthy coffers, Maine doesn’t have enough revenue to cover half a billion dollars the state is legally obligated to spend between mid-2019 and mid-2021. LePage ran for office facing an initial $1.2 billion gap that shrank to $165 million for the two-year budget cycle ending in June.
Those spending obligations include the cost of finally covering 55 percent of school costs as voters demanded in 2004. LePage has estimated that’ll cost Maine $180 million over the next two years.
LePage says it’d cost another $213 million to send 5 percent of tax revenue to municipalities starting in July. Under LePage, the state temporarily cut municipal revenue sharing to 2 percent.
His administration also estimates voter-approved Medicaid expansion will cost $180 million and denies a non-partisan Legislative office’s projection of annual savings of $25 million.