By Governor Paul LePage
6.1 billion dollars. It’s a figure that has been thrown around for the past six months as Legislators battled the budget in Augusta. When billions of your tax dollars are at stake I take my job very seriously.
You see, I am a businessman: I understand the bottom line. I also understand where the revenue comes from. Tax money is your hard-earned money, not the politicians’ in Augusta.
This budget is a good down payment, but it’s only part of the bill that needs to be paid in full.
In February, I handed a two-year plan to legislators that was very different from previous budgets with a focus on creating jobs, lowering taxes, reforming welfare and realigning spending to better reflect today’s realities. Our challenge was to create a budget that did not include hundreds of millions of one-time federal stimulus dollars.
The budget I signed reflects a step toward fiscal responsibility and a change in the way we must operate—but it is only the beginning.
The hole that has been dug was decades in the making, and Maine people can no longer afford to go any deeper into debt. I will work hard to see that we reduce spending for the sake of the future of our state.
Some very good things survived the legislative process, such as tax reform, which provides $150 million in tax relief, including a reduction in income tax rates. The budget includes the elimination of state income tax payments for 70,000 low-income working Mainers. This is the largest tax cut in Maine history.
The budget will also help create jobs: $31 million has been set aside to aid economic growth by giving tax relief to new and existing job creators who invest in Maine. We also conform to federal law, which will give small businesses an incentive to invest in new or used equipment—more steps to create jobs.
As this budget assists in recovering our economy, it does not address out-of-control spending on welfare. However, some progress has been made. It returns the welfare program Temporary Assistance for Needy Families to its original intent, and it aligns with federal rules by establishing a five-year limit on benefits.
I understand welfare, and I want to give a hand up to Mainers that need help—not a lifetime of benefits. There are harsher penalties for those who do not take the steps toward independence as outlined in the program rules, including the loss of all benefits after 90 days of non-compliance.
Our welfare programs must help people get back to work and on the road to self-sufficiency. Maine was one of just a handful of states that chose to provide benefits to noncitizens, contrary to the federal government’s position.
This budget includes some progress by ending access to these expensive benefits to new legal noncitizens with the exception of pregnant women and children—again consistent with federal policy. It’s a good start, but more needs to be done.
Spending in Maine’s Medicaid program will continue to be problematic. We must challenge our legislators to address out-of-control entitlement spending.
The expansion over the last decade of providing services to some people—who the federal government does not require us to cover—puts us in a very tough position. Over the last eight years, the state’s MaineCare program has experienced financial challenges year after year with spending outpacing the state’s ability to cover the costs.
Today, some of the state’s neediest, including people with developmental disabilities and Maine’s elderly, are on waiting lists for services because past decisions have spread state resources so thin that we are unable to focus on key priorities, like meeting the needs of Maine’s most vulnerable.
I will continue to press for change and flexibility within the Medicaid program to fix this. It is essential that we live within our means and make sound spending decisions within existing funding.
Welfare fraud is another culprit that is contributing to our state’s downward spiral. Not only is it costing us money, but it’s a crime that the Department of Health and Human Services Commissioner and staff take seriously.
DHHS has a toll-free number to call if you suspect a situation involving welfare fraud. That number is 1-800-442-6003. According to our director of welfare fraud investigations, the number of citizens’ complaints has doubled from last year. It’s estimated that DHHS will receive more than 2,000 complaints this year, which will save an estimated one million dollars.
I need your help to create the policy that will strengthen the economy, streamline government and save you money. Your voice counts, and I thank you for listening to mine.