AUGUSTA – Gov.-elect Paul LePage has chosen some State House insiders – and a few outsiders – to serve in a 10-member group that will help craft the next two-year state budget.

LePage, a Republican who will be inaugurated in January, chose five current state lawmakers, two former lawmakers, two health care experts and one former Baldacci administration official.

“There are no easy solutions to Maine’s problems,” LePage said in his announcement in the Hall of Flags. “But I’m pleased to be joined in the search for answers by some of the foremost experts on state budgets.”

Leading the budget team will be Rep. Sawin Millett, R-Waterford, the ranking Republican on the Legislature’s Appropriations Committee. Millett lost in a run for the Senate earlier this month, and will work with Tarren Bragdon to lead LePage’s budget team.

Bragdon, executive director of the Maine Heritage Policy Center, is a former Republican state legislator who is helping to lead LePage’s transition team.

Democrat Ryan Low, who was Gov. John Baldacci’s finance commissioner until he left for the University of Maine System in July, has agreed to volunteer his time on the committee.

George Kerr, a former Democratic state lawmaker from Old Orchard Beach, is a restaurant owner who was chosen to serve on the panel.

The group will face a budget shortfall projected at $1.2 billion. That number could be reduced next week when the state’s Revenue Forecasting Committee estimates revenue totals for the two-year period. Also, the $1.2 billion includes an assumption that the state will fund 55 percent of the cost of schools statewide, which is not likely, Millett said.

If the state funded all agencies at current levels, there would be a $514 million deficit because of lagging revenue and increased health care spending, Millett said.

“We have to do what everyone talks about but hasn’t done well, and that is look at programs that are outdated or not performing and low priority,” he said. “I think we can do a lot of that.”

The budget – due in the Legislature Feb. 11 – will also address the state’s Dirigo health insurance program, Millett said. He said the group will examine what is working within the program, but cuts in other areas are expected.

LePage said he wants to keep his campaign promise to end the program.

“Dirigo is on life support,” he said. “I’d like to put it out of its misery.”

LePage said he wants the budget to pay back money that’s owed to Maine hospitals, honor commitments to fund the state retirement system and cut state government.

“Our budget will identify savings and reforms that make Maine government more affordable, more efficient and more job-friendly,” he said.

Low, chief financial officer at the University of Maine at Farmington, said he agreed to serve because he wanted to follow through on his promise to help ensure a seamless transition to the new administration. And when Millett called him, he couldn’t say no.

“There’s no one I respect more in state government or in public service at all than Sawin Millett,” he said.

Bragdon, whose conservative think tank was often critical of Baldacci’s proposals, said the group will do more than present a balanced budget.

“This is a mandate to reform the state government, to empower job creators, to reject tax increases, to protect the truly needy, to effectively educate our kids and to provide the necessary services that Maine people need,” he said.

Millett, who has served as education and finance commissioner for previous governors, said the budget will not make everyone happy, but it will be realistic and set clear priorities.

“It will be difficult and there will be push-back, but it’s a different environment,” he said. “We’ve just been through an election. The people are saying government is spending too much and they don’t want taxes being increased.”

 

MaineToday Media State House Writer Susan Cover can be contacted at 620-7015 or at: [email protected]