Augusta – This afternoon, House Republicans spoke about their caucus priorities as we head into the session which begins this week. From day one, House Republicans have been steadfast in their commitment to control state spending and we have no plans to waver from that commitment.
The Maine Legislature must deal with a number of challenges as legislators return to Augusta this week.
Maine is in the midst of the worst drug crisis in state history. Governor LePage requested funding for 10 new MDEA agents immediately to help fight the supply side of this epidemic. That funding has been found within existing resources and the process of recruiting those agents has already begun.
Now it’s time for legislators to turn their attention toward drug treatment and education. This is an issue that requires a thoughtful and thorough process and whatever plan is ultimately brought forward for a vote must be completely vetted by the committees of jurisdiction. We cannot afford to race through this process.
Maine already spends roughly $76 million annually on drug treatment and education. We need a thorough analysis of how that money is being spent in order to ensure those funds are being utilized in the most effective way before we consider spending any more money.
In addition to the drug epidemic, there are several fiscal issues that demand the immediate attention of legislators.
• Tax Conformity: On the heels of the omnibus spending package passed in Washington last month, whether or not Maine complies with these new tax changes could cost roughly $40 million.
• Voter approved changes made to the Maine Clean Elections Program will cost the state an additional $7-$10 million.
• Indigent Legal Services: This program was not funded for the second year of the biennium. This is a constitutionally mandated program and will require $4 million in funding.
• County Jails Issue: A bill to address the situation with the county jails was carried over to the upcoming session. This also has the potential to cost the state additional money.
“When you add it all up, we could be looking at a significant budget shortfall before we even begin the process of addressing drug treatment and prevention,” said House Republican Leader Rep. Ken Fredette of Newport. “We must make sure we are doing as much as we possibly can with existing resources before we commit additional taxpayer money to address the drug problem or anything else.”
“House Republicans will not allow the challenges we face to lead to an explosion in state spending, cuts to services to our elderly and disabled population or an increase in taxes,” added Assistant House Republican Leader, Rep. Ellie Espling of New Gloucester. “As we have said from the beginning, we must be very thoughtful and thorough when we consider moving forward with any initiative that calls for additional state spending.”