AUGUSTA — The state has about $30 million more in its bank account than when lawmakers passed the most recent two-year budget in June, the Legislature’s budget-writing committee was told Thursday.

The biggest chunk of the increase, about $16.6 million, comes from a new law that requires sales tax collection by online retailers like eBay and Amazon. That law and about 20 others that either added revenue to the state’s coffers or reduced spending were passed after lawmakers enacted the budget, according to Christopher Nolan, director of the Legislature’s Office of Fiscal and Program Review.

Nolan and other state officials briefed the Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee on the increase. The $7.9 billion budget lawmakers agreed to in June left about $11 million unspent, and that has grown to $42.3 million. But lawmakers could have more or less than that to work with when the second session of the 129th Legislature opens in January.

The state’s last revenue forecast, issued in May, showed steady revenue growth, including a projected increase of $20.7 million for the current two-year budget, the first under the administration of Gov. Janet Mills, a Democrat.

The next revenue forecast is due on Nov. 26. State Rep. Drew Gattine, D-Westbrook, House chair of the committee, warned that the results of that forecast could tip the balance sheet either way for 2020.

The committee spent its day hearing financial reports from several state officials, including State Auditor Polla Buckley and Department of Health and Human Services Commissioner Jeanne Lambrew.

Lambrew, who heads the department that receives about $2.4 billion of the state’s general fund, updated the committee on a range of topics, including an effort to reach more residents who are eligible for MaineCare, the state’s recently expanded Medicaid program.

The Legislature directed an additional $125 million in state revenues to the program during the last budget negotiations. The shift allows as many as 70,000 additional eligible residents to join the program, which will draw up to $700 million a year in federal matching funds under the Affordable Care Act.

Lambrew said that since funding for expansion of the program was put in place, DHHS had signed up only about 40,000 new residents but that figure was expected to grow as more people learn they are eligible for coverage under the expansion.

Medicaid expansion has been a major development in the first year of the Mills’ administration. Although Maine voters approved expansion in 2017, former Gov. Paul LePage refused to implement it.

Lawmakers also heard from Nolan that the state’s daily cash flow, hovering around $500 million, was also solidly in the black, allowing the state to avoid borrowing money based on anticipated taxes to cover operating costs, a move the state hasn’t had to do in several years.

 

 


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