AUGUSTA, Maine — Gov. Paul LePage two years ago ordered his state agency heads to start building their budgets from a “zero base,” prioritizing and justifying all programs, activities and expenditure as if they’re starting from zero.
But the governor’s budget proposal for the two-year cycle that starts July 1 is a fusion of the zero-base budgeting process he hoped to introduce and the baseline budgeting process that state agencies have traditionally used to assemble their budgets.
Through the baseline budget process, departments base their spending plans on what they spent the previous year and include explanations in budget documents only for funding increases and reductions.
LePage’s finance commissioner, Sawin Millett, said Wednesday that agency heads have closely analyzed their department budgets during the past two years as part of the zero-base budgeting process and developed recommendations for the administration’s two-year budget proposal. But when it came to filling an $880 million structural budget gap, Millett said the administration had to take whatever measures it could.
“We’ve taken all the zero-base budgeting and we’ve taken all the baseline budget adjustments and we’re still $300 million apart,” Millett told lawmakers on the Appropriations and Taxation committees, referring to remaining budget gaps in education and health and human services the administration had to fill late in the budget process. “It became a very difficult exercise.”
Sen. Doug Thomas, R-Ripley, a member of the Legislature’s Taxation Committee, said he was looking forward to a zero-base budget that fully explains every expenditure line.
“It looks like that’s not going to happen this year,” he told Millett.
“We had to do several things just to pull a budget into balance, and I know that’s passing a burden onto you in Appropriations,” Millett told lawmakers. “There was no other way of getting red ink into black ink.”