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This week’s edition!

Governor’s Address: My Budget Is About Hope

Earlier this week, I spoke to the Maine state Legislature to deliver my first biennial budget proposal. It was a powerful moment in the presence of the three branches of government as our administration took the first step in planning for a new and better future for our state.

We did this without raising taxes, while preserving the Rainy Day fund for state government, and preserving the sources of revenues that Mainers have come to expect for education and health care.

The budget I presented is about Health, Opportunity, Prosperity, and Education. It is about HOPE.

The first major focus of this budget is health care. Expanding MaineCare will help up to 70,000 people who now lack affordable health insurance and will support our rural hospitals. It will also reduce the cost of health insurance to small businesses, self-employed individuals, and employees, whose insurance rates are now essentially making up the difference for hospitals’ uncompensated care.

To support MaineCare expansion, we have included $147 million in the state budget over the next two years. We have also budgeted $29 million for a Medicaid Reserve Account to cover any contingencies. And, of course, we are looking at controlling costs.

This budget also addresses other public health challenges in our state. Among the most critical of these is the opioid epidemic. This week, the Attorney General, Aaron Frey, released statistics showing that 282 people died of drug overdose during the first nine months of last year. That is one overdose death per day.

The budget I have presented invests in robust prevention, treatment, and education efforts, much of which use federal money already in existence, to stem the tide of this epidemic. These initiatives are in addition to the vigorous efforts of law enforcement at all levels to combat drug trafficking into Maine – efforts that we wholeheartedly support. In these ways and others, we are rebuilding our public health infrastructure.

We are also rebuilding our education infrastructure. The Maine Department of Education will once again be a place that leads, inspires, and supports our schools, teachers, and students.

For kindergarten through high school, this budget provides another $126 million in state funds over the biennium. It ensures that no teacher in Maine will make less than $40,000 a year. And it increases funding for adult education and career technical high schools so every Mainer can compete for skilled jobs in a changing economy, no matter their age or background.

Our investments in K-12 education will help local schools. But we hope to do more. By providing more local school aid, more revenue sharing, more homestead reimbursements, and more disaster assistance for the towns, it will also result in relief for property tax payers.

We are also investing in infrastructure and Maine public safety. With this budget, we will be able to pave around 2,000 miles of roadway, fix 135 bridges, and invest in rail, public transit, and seaports. This budget authorizes fifteen additional state troopers and sergeants so we can cover all areas of Maine with a 24-hour police presence, including rural areas. And it fulfils our promise to the good people of Washington County to fund a correctional facility there again.

This is our budget. Maine people I’ve heard from want better health care. They want better schools. They want better jobs and greater economic opportunity. And they do not want a tax increase.

What I have presented is a pragmatic, common-sense budget that lives within our means and delivers what Maine people want. The budget is based on the projections of independent experts who say that revenue beyond this biennium is expected to be hundreds of millions of dollars more than what this budget proposes.

So, I think I am being pretty pragmatic, and fairly conservative, in presenting this budget. I believe that, when taken in combination with the Rainy Day fund of $273 million that we protect, Maine is well-positioned for the years to come.

I have predicted that there would be those who said this budget is government spending run amuck, and there would be others who say we ought to spend more, more, more. With those people, I respectfully disagree.

This budget is for the small businesses struggling with health care costs and for employers seeking a skilled workforce.

It is for the parents who have lost their children to overdose and are now raising their grandchildren.

It is for the families, children, and seniors living without basic health care.

It is for the teachers who are now paying for school supplies and food for their students out of their own pockets while earning salaries that are not commensurate to the value of their work.

It is for the Maine towns and property tax payers who have had to pick up the tab for services that state government should have been supporting.

This budget is about Health, Opportunity, Prosperity, and Education. It is about HOPE.

Thank you.

Janet Mills

Governor

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