Cheers to prominent Maine Republicans, who have aptly described Gov. Janet Mills’ recently proposed $8.04 billion biennial spending plan as a disaster waiting to happen.
In a recent WGAN radio interview, former Gov. Paul LePage compared Mills to an inebriated seaman on weekend furlough: “The difference between Janet Mills and a drunken sailor is that a drunken sailor spends his own money,” LePage quipped.
LePage, a recent transplant to Florida who still retains an interest in Maine politics (even hinting at a 2022 gubernatorial run if Democrats ruin the state’s finances), always had a way with words. LePage also had a way of keeping budgets to a minimum, which taxpayers took for granted.
Mills, in an effort to appease special-interest groups and donors, is calling for an $800 million (11 percent) budget increase over the next two years. While she’s not proposing higher income taxes, she’s relying on rosy revenue forecasts to balance the budget.
That kind of budgetary gimmickry worries conservatives and should make all skin-in-the-game taxpayers nervous. If revenue falls, the money won’t be there to fund Mills’ pet programs, and taxpayers will have to make up the difference. In essence, we must trust Mills’ ability to predict the future, and I doubt her experience as the state’s attorney general had anything to do with crystal balls.
LePage is right on. Sailors are known to spend their money freely, but they’re also known to gamble. And Gov. Janet, as she wants to be called, is certainly betting on sunny economic skies ahead, using Maine taxpayers’ wallets as a hedge against an economic downturn – which she herself has predicted. Why would Mills anticipate steady revenue growth while also predicting an economic downturn? It doesn’t make sense.
State Rep. H. Sawin Millett – a long-serving and respected Republican from Waterford who was LePage’s budget commissioner – recently wrote in the Bangor Daily News that Mills’ budget proposal, which now goes to the Legislature for tweaking and a final vote by June 30, is simply irresponsible. He says Republicans will do their best to rein in Mills’ lavish spending and wish list of a budget.
“The proposed spending package is unsustainable, in both the short and long term. We are committed to working in good faith by offering constructive and responsible alternatives, if given the opportunity,” Millett wrote.
Millett, an old-school fiscal conservative who has always called for responsible government spending, agrees that Mills must have been wearing rose-colored glasses when drafting her budget.
“It spends the budget surplus accumulated under the LePage administration, including transfers from one-time funding sources, and relies on overly optimistic future revenue assumptions,” Millett wrote. “This, after the governor herself has warned of a possible future recession.”
The Maine Heritage Policy Center, a conservative think tank, also issued a critique of Mills’ budget, calling it a “costly and substantial expansion of state government.”
The center reported that the first budget signed by LePage, who was elected in 2010, capped spending at $6.1 billion. His last budget, which ends June 30, totaled $7.2 billion, “an increase of about $1 billion in annual spending over an eight-year period. Gov. Mills’ budget proposes about $800 million in new spending in the first biennium, or nearly four-fifths of new spending under LePage’s tenure.”
While everyone may like the drunk who buys a round for the bar, what we really need is the fiscal sobriety Republicans have provided since 2010. One hopes Maine won’t wake up to a massive hangover if Mills’ budget prevails.
John Balentine, a former managing editor for Sun Media Group, lives in Windham.