More understatement than statement, the budget unveiled last week by Gov. Mills succeeded in upholding existing policies and programming. In doing so, it passed up an opportunity to respond to the many new challenges facing our state.

Politicians and strategy types sometimes call what Mills did last Tuesday “getting out in front of the story.” In a radio interview, the governor previewed the biennial budget as “fairly cautious” and free of any “major initiatives.” What came next was just that: a “stabilizing document,” a matter of maintenance and continuity.

Our gripe is more about scope than it is about scale. Like many other states assisted during the pandemic, Maine has the money; The record $10.3 billion budget is larger than its predecessor by almost $1 billion, increasing state spending by almost 10% in the fiscal years starting July 1.

While some Republican colleagues said this increase suggested the state was being taxed too much, the increase is appropriate. Indeed, it could be higher again – a surplus is only a problem insofar as it has to be intelligently and carefully used. But we recognize that fiscal prudence is a reasonable tack to take in 2023. Forecasting has been exceedingly difficult, if not impossible, in recent years.

Philosophical prudence, though, is a different story; the reasons this year and those ahead require caution and careful management are the same reasons Maine needed a budget with originality and new initiatives.

The Center on Budget Policies and Priorities, as you might expect, puts it well: “The purpose of a state budget is to provide programs and services, and the best measure of whether the budget has remained constant in meeting priorities from year to year is not the number of dollars spent but rather the impact on programs and services of changes in the dollars spent.”


Parts of Maine are bursting at the seams. Parts of Maine are increasingly desolate. Services are either unavailable because of unprecedented demand or dwindling because what’s left of demand is too. All of those parts of our state, and all of the parts in between, need fresh, targeted policies and programming that take a long-term view and lend themselves to protecting Maine’s future and rebalancing its multi-speed economy.

Environmental measures, at the most dire moment for our environment since the dawn of time, read as a footnote in this budget. Meaningful efforts at expanding broadband and connectivity were not among the highlights. The budget also says and does very little for small business, the backbone of our economy, or with regard to encouraging critical outside investment in Maine. Housing, grouped under infrastructure, has more than earned its own heading.

Here are some of things this editorial board has pressed for, at the state level, in the past six months: vastly increased resources for Maine’s prisons and jails; the rescue of Maine Commission on Indigent Legal Services; a new statewide harm prevention strategy; a dramatic intervention on road safety; a safety net for Maine’s embattled child care providers; more robust loan forgiveness for people training in needed fields, and a coordinated statewide plan for the mitigation of PFAS contamination.

The budget hit many of those notes, but in old familiar ways. Transportation, designated for $400 million of the $900 million addition, was rightly hailed as a big winner with promising upside potential; according to the chair of the Legislature’s Transportation Committee, Maine could receive as much $4 in federal funding for every $1 of state funds spent on transportation projects eligible for a federal match.

And no, it’s not a bad thing to sustain the administration’s focus on support of a number of these vital areas and others: funding for free school meals; record funding for mental health and substance use disorder services; expanded access to pre-K, and strengthened care for older Mainers. But we believe there was a chance to cover all of this while trying brand-new approaches, maybe even inviting what Gov. Mills characterized as “drama” in the process.

Maine is in a fortunate position, financially, and Mills’ leadership remains steady, clear-minded and well intentioned. The state’s untouched and record-high rainy day fund, to give one example, is a credit to her leadership and firm grip on reality.

This was not a bad budget. Could things be worse? By some distance. But that’s no reason not to hope that future budgets be, if not better, different.

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