AUGUSTA — At the most fundamental level, state government is responsible for fixing roads, funding education and providing basic services to Maine people. But when lawmakers went home from Augusta a couple of weeks ago, we left many of these essential duties unfulfilled and unfunded. As a result, uncertainty remains on numerous issues critical to the health and well-being of both our people and our economy.

This unnecessary delay must end. It’s time for us lawmakers to finish our job.

As members of the Legislature’s Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee, our role is to best allocate state resources to serve Maine people and businesses. Our objective is to ensure that taxpayer dollars are spent effectively, efficiently and with the most benefit to all Mainers. It’s a difficult task, but certainly not impossible.

Typically, our committee packages spending needs into a single bill in order to balance priorities, keeping in mind that bipartisan support is required for final passage of any spending plan. Just like it is in the private sector, operating on a single-issue basis and keeping problems siloed results in poor outcomes for everyone. Right now, we have a smart bipartisan spending package that addresses our most pressing needs and fulfills basic obligations; we just need to take action.

First, we’ve built a spending proposal to make critical investments to support Maine’s most vulnerable populations – seniors, individuals with disabilities and mental illness, and children with special needs. For the past few years, we’ve heard directly from the agencies serving these people, the workers and the families, all of whom are crying out for help. Maine’s direct-care workers provide crucial services, and they have to earn a living wage for this work. If we don’t take action, the shortage of direct-care workers will only grow, which will put the health and safety of our seniors and people with disabilities at particular risk.

The plan also includes legislation to make serious progress in reversing the opioid epidemic. Every aspect of Maine’s economy, community safety and family stability will continue to suffer if we do not take action. There’s no reason to wait any longer. These initiatives – based on the hard work of the Legislature’s bipartisan opioid task force – would dramatically increase access to treatment and recovery programs that Maine families and individuals struggling with addiction desperately need. It isn’t a silver-bullet solution, but it is a promising start.

Another piece of unfinished business is a proposal to fund the administrative costs of Medicaid expansion at the level requested by Gov. LePage. This $3.8 million appropriation is minimal compared to the entirety of the spending plan, but it is an effort to work with the administration so over 70,000 newly eligible Mainers can finally access the health care they deserve.

The last couple of items before us are almost perfunctory – we do them every few years. Lawmakers need to approve bonds to make essential upgrades to our infrastructure, including bridges, roads, public buildings and our wastewater drainage system. These are not flashy pieces of legislation by any means, but they are fundamental to our ability to drink clean water, maintain our highways and support our students.

We also have some annual housekeeping to do regarding disbursement of public education funding. School districts all over Maine await this crucial information so they can plan their budgets for the school year ahead.

During the closing days of every two-year legislative session, we are careful to meet our obligations and balance our budget, both of which are required by law, before we formally adjourn. However, House Republicans decided to vote against a simple extension of our legislative session, forcing us to leave too many issues unresolved.

The current standstill is frustrating, but we know we can overcome it. These items should be noncontroversial. They address clear responsibilities of state government. They have support from both Democrats and Republicans. We’ll be in Augusta on Wednesday to consider vetoes, and we will have another opportunity to vote on a brief extension to allow us to finish the job you sent us here to do. We hope our colleagues agree.

Democrats are ready to work and we will support a prudent, comprehensive package that will grow and strengthen the middle class, while addressing the significant challenges facing our state. Let’s not lose this opportunity.


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