AUGUSTA — One of the most important tasks faced by Maine legislators is balancing the state’s books. This process involves considering the resources available and prioritizing how they should be spent. The Legislature passes a two-year budget every other year and, during the off years, makes adjustments to maintain balance between unmet spending needs and unexpected changes in revenue.

Historically, the governor is a critical partner in this process. The governor not only spells out budget priorities but also puts forward plans for how to achieve them.

Last year, legislators on both sides of the aisle rejected Gov. LePage’s two-year budget proposal, overrode his veto and enacted a budget that reduced property taxes for homeowners, protected important programs for the elderly and avoided dramatic cuts in the state’s future capacity to fund education and other priorities.

Now Gov. LePage is refusing to even work with legislators to craft a supplemental budget that reflects shared priorities and helps move Maine forward. Instead, he has demanded that his spending bills be passed separately without being attached to a larger budget agreement.

If the Legislature yields to the governor’s desire to sidestep Maine’s tried and true process for arriving at a state budget, the result likely will be short-sighted spending decisions that fail to reflect Maine’s shared resources and aspirations.

When it comes to state spending, the budgeting process is the best tool we have for making sure that all of our values are represented and that we are working toward a common goal. The governor would replace it with a series of one-off spending measures that produce an unconnected, piecemeal state budget rather than a coordinated plan for building Maine’s economy.

The administration’s gambit reminds me of a joke from my favorite show. The heroine compliments a friend’s car by saying, “Nice wheels,” and he sarcastically replies, “Came with the car.”

Well-planned budgets are like cars in that they contain a lot of pieces that work together to get our state where it needs to go. The governor would make legislators decide the merit of the wheels in isolation of whether there is even a working car attached to turn them.

Imagine buying a car piece by piece without knowing which pieces you have already purchased, how much money you have to spend on the entire car, or what you will ultimately be using the car for. Would “nice wheels” make up for the fact that you ran out of money before buying an engine? Knowing what we want the car to do and the resources available are important steps in getting a car that meets our needs.

The budget is the way legislators go through this process for state spending and revenue. It outlines where we want the state to go, assesses available resources, and makes spending decisions that get our state closer to its goals with the resources available. However, the governor has insisted that the session persist without a budget and that policy proposals like the $39 million tax conformity bill, $15 million for education funding and the approximately $7 million bill for law enforcement raises be considered out of context of other spending priorities.

Most of us agree that supporting small businesses, education and fair wages are important state priorities. And the three spending bills the governor has insisted pass separately do address these shared goals. But preventing property tax increases, attracting and retaining quality teachers, and livable wages for home care workers also address these priorities and need funding.

Meeting these shared goals also becomes more complicated when one considers that these priorities are interconnected. A thriving economy and good wages depend on an educated workforce, for example.

A budget enables legislators to consider these policies side by side and determine which combination will work best to drive the state toward a stronger economy and a better quality of life for Mainers. In contrast, funding policies individually, without considering all of our goals and needs, can lead to missed opportunities.

For example, we could do right by our police officers at the expense of making home care workers continue to take home poverty wages. A budget driven by our shared value of fair wages for fair work would make room for both of these spending needs within the limits of the resources we have available.

Getting the Maine that we want requires forward thinking, a discussion of values and, most importantly, a plan for how we make the most of what we have to get to where we need to be.


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