BANGOR, Maine — Gov. Paul LePage said the recent events in Washington related to the nation’s borrowing ability serves as a perfect reminder for why Maine needs to continue looking for ways to cut spending.
“We’ve been saying it for two years now that you can’t spend what you don’t have and it’s coming to roost,” LePage said Tuesday at the Maine Air National Guard’s 101st Air Refueling Wing in Bangor.
LePage and his wife, Ann, spent Tuesday morning aboard a KC-135 conducting a refueling mission to several F-16s based in Vermont. Once the two-hour mission was over and the massive gray plane landed safely on the tarmac in Bangor, the governor spoke with media members about the experience and about recent events.
Last week, after Congress and President Barack Obama reached a deal on a plan to raise the nation’s borrowing limit while cutting $2.4 trillion over 10 years, LePage responded by asking his state departments to trim $100 million.
Although the effect of federal cuts on Maine may not be known for months, LePage said the state can’t afford to wait. To accomplish such deep cuts, the governor urged departments to employ a zero-based budget approach, something he believes will help further streamline services.
The state already faces a shortfall of $25 million identified in the $6.1 billion budget that passed in June, but the governor said it is clear to him that $25 million will not be enough.
“We’ll see as we go along,” he said. “If you get to $25 [million] and there is still room and you get $50 [million] and there is still room and, if at $75 [million] it hurts, you stop.
“But if $100 [million] still seems easy, you go to $125 [million]. You go until it hurts.
“It’s just like a business,” LePage continued. “You get all the necessities done and you make sure the services are provided and you stop then.”
A 12-member state task force was created as part of the budget to find the $25 million shortfall. LePage said he would ask that same group to consider additional cuts as well.
However, Democrats on that task force say the group does not have the statutory authority to address any other cuts.
“We can certainly offer recommendations, but it’s not our role to find more cuts,” said Rep. John Martin of Eagle Lake, a member of the task force and the lead House Democrat on the Appropriations Committee. “There are some people who think you can keep all these services and not pay for them.”
Some Democrats have said to keep essential services in place, new revenues or taxes might need to be considered. That idea could be a nonstarter with Republicans who already have indicated that some federal cuts may not be replaced by state dollars.
The budget task force, made up of lawmakers and members of the private sector, will meet for the first time Thursday morning in Augusta to outline goals and objectives.
The group is expected to make its recommendations by Dec. 15, but the Legislature will have the final say next year.
In Bangor on Tuesday, LePage was the first governor to take part in an orientation flight of the Maine Air National Guard since Angus King in 1995. He called the refueling mission an amazing thing to witness.
“To get a birds-eye view traveling at over 400 miles per hour, establish contact with another jet and transfer fuel is an impressive sight to see,” LePage said.
He also praised the men and women of the Air Guard who affirmed his belief that, “Our country is in good hands.”
Asked for her take on Tuesday’s flight, Ann LePage joked that “the seats are much more comfortable than regular airplanes.”
“The work our Maine Air National Guard is doing is a job that many of us aren’t aware of, but it’s a mission that is incredibly important,” the first lady later added.
Joining the governor and first lady were Col. Doug Farnham, Major Bill Dunn, Chief Master Sgt. Jay Ellingsen and Chief Master Sgt. Bob Phair, all of the 101st.
The Maine Air National Guard’s 101st Air Refueling Wing is a federally funded program of the U.S. military to employ air refueling, airlift operations and provide other support to ongoing military operations worldwide. It is the busiest refueling base in the entire country and employs more than 800 people.