If you try and craft a budget of $6.3 billion with one political party in control of both the legislative and executive branches, it comes out solely reflecting those views and values of that party.
The reality of this session was we didn’t have that. The budget that was passed, vetoed and eventually overridden, is not a Democratic budget nor a Republican budget, but a reflection of six months of negotiations and compromises. After having actually read the full 700 plus page budget document, I can definitely attest to this fact.
Much of this work is done on the appropriations committee that ultimately has the power to say yea or nay in the final product that reaches our desks in the House and Senate.
I have the utmost respect for the individuals who serve on this committee, as they work day in and day out often forgoing sleep to get this work done.
Before this, individual policy committees comb through the nearly 1,700 bills introduced to weed through the duds and send final recommendations to the appropriations committee.
On my committee of state and local government, we oversee the operations and structure of state, county and municipal government.
A major priority of mine, especially as a new legislator, was to reform the very government structure itself in order to be more efficient and more cost-effective. Not only did I go line-by-line through my own committee’s budget, finding millions of dollars of cost-savings, but also submitted legislation that totaled about $25 million in savings to taxpayers, even going as far as proposing a cut to my own pay. I will delve more into those specific bills and their respective outcomes in an upcoming column.
What I found as a first-time lawmaker throughout this budget development didn’t surprise me.
I wasn’t surprised that many legislators didn’t actually read the budget or many bills prior to casting a pivotal vote.
Oftentimes legislators would use the talking points the party leadership provided the day of a vote and take it as gospel. I also found that the process in Augusta gets in the way of progress.
The process, regardless of who is in power, is not made for individual legislators to really delve into the budget or to even challenge the status quo based on core values unless it’s given the go ahead from leadership first.
The process isn’t made for going line-by-line, ensuring that we are prioritizing spending and trying to responsibly save as much taxpayer money as possible.
Before you start re-checking my party affiliation, I’m just someone who understands that in order to pay for essential programs and services, such as the drugs for the elderly program, or increase education spending, we have to have the money to pay for it.
Raising revenue, which is a clever way to say raise taxes/ fees, should be the last option on the road to a balanced budget, but it shouldn’t be completely left off the table. What I found is that both sides rush to the extremes of their economic philosophies once in power; Democrats tend to rush to the revenue side while Republicans tend to rush to cut entire essential programs altogether.
What is needed is a balance of these two approaches. We must cut wasteful spending, but we must also treat people as something more than a mere number on a spreadsheet and also see what can be fixed in our tax code, like ensuring that those wealthier Mainers pay the same income tax rate as middle class families. That, my friends, is economic fairness.
When we are spending more than $12,000 on bottled water for agencies, a couple hundred thousand for new positions, including deputy commissioners at the request of the Gov. Paul LePage administration, $300,000 per year for legislators to communicate to constituents, and $12.5 million per year to have a Senate do the exact same work as the House, it mind-boggles me as to why we couldn’t cut things of that nature that don’t negatively impact you in order to adequately fund services that do positively impact you on Main Street.
Here are some of the highlights of the two-year budget:
I would typically vote against individual pieces within this budget, but there are pieces that I do like. As a whole this is the best budget possible given the tense political environment that our chief executive continues to put us in, via his vitriolic kindergarten-style charades.
For the most part, legislators on both sides have put politics and party aside to try and do what is right and work across the aisle to do the job voters sent us there to do.
This budget is a bipartisan compromise that avoided a government shutdown, which would have put this state’s credit rating on a downward spiral and hopefully avoided municipalities having to rapidly increase property taxes higher than they already are.
If you would like to read the entire budget, including summaries of key sections, I’ve put all of the documents on my legislative website.
Justin Chenette is the state representative for part of Saco. You can get legislative updates about the work out of the 126th Legislature at www.justinchenette.com and Facebook.com/justinforsaco.
Beyond the Headlines
Weekly Column featured in The Biddeford-Saco-OOB Courier Newspaper by Rep. Justin Chenette of Saco