One of the Legislature’s final steps each session is to review unfunded initiatives, place them aside projected revenues and decide which items already passed by majority vote should receive taxpayer money. Each time, limited funds mean that worthy ideas and worthwhile investments don’t make the cut.

This year, however, the state’s improving economy – and conservative revenue projections – are providing an opportunity for legislators to revisit some of those tough decisions, and to correct any problems caused by the latest budget.

The Maine Revenue Forecasting Committee said this week that it expects General Fund revenue to exceed expectations by nearly $73 million, a sign that Maine perhaps is finally moving on from the after-effects of the Great Recession.

That’s a small part of the two-year, $6.7 billion state budget, but it is enough to take care of some emerging problems, or even to reinvest in initiatives that were set aside during the downturn.

Instead, Gov. LePage wants to put it all in the Budget Stabilization Fund, the state’s rainy day fund, which is used to cover the loss of revenue during economic downturns, and which is also a factor in the state’s credit rating.

The rainy day fund was all but depleted in 2009, but it since has been restored to $111 million, just short of its pre-recession total of $129 million.


And while the state should continue to build its financial reserves, Maine’s credit ratings are generally good and stable.

In fact, ratings services often cite as negative factors the state’s stagnant population and aging workforce, two problems that require investment, not austerity, to fix.

Not the least of these investments is education funding. Projections for the 2016-17 school year show 131 school districts losing a collective $20 million in state funding. If that stands, those school districts will either have to cut programs or raise property taxes. Either would be harmful, and now neither is necessary.

The rising cost of school spending in Maine, even amid falling enrollments, is a cause for concern, and should be addressed.

But forcing schools to deal with sudden shortfalls is no way to induce larger structural changes, and in any case wouldn’t help the students who need to learn now, or the property owners who would shoulder any tax increase.

And while certainly some of the surplus should be dedicated to the rainy day fund, there are other places where spending would be beneficial, either to support programs or offer incentives that push the state in the right direction, and they should be proposed and considered.

That’s not spending for spending’s sake – it’s simply making good use of the actual revenue the budget is producing.

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