Maine gov-elect faces tough budget challenge AUGUSTA, Maine (AP) — Maine Gov.-elect Paul LePage says he wants to cut spending and stop the growth of state government.
But the newly elected Republican governor has a tough act to follow. Democratic Gov. John Baldacci’s been doing that for eight years, though it might not be well-known to voters.
The Maine Sunday Telegram says Baldacci helped lower Maine’ tax burden to 15th highest in the nation from No. 5 when he took office in 2003.
During his two terms, Baldacci eliminated more than 1,000 state jobs. Adjusted for inflation, the fiscal 2010-11 general fund budget of $2.69 billion is less than the budget Baldacci inherited when he became governor in 2003.
Democrats say Baldacci’s governed as a centrist and often frustrated members of his own party by refusing to raise broad-based taxes.
If LePage wants to take the state in a different direction, there are several ways he can go, said Peter Mills, an outgoing senator from Somerset County who lost to LePage in the Republican primary for governor.
As a Republican, he said, LePage won’t be beholden to state workers unions for getting members of his party elected, so he can take a harder stance when negotiating pay and benefits.
Rather than balance the budget with across-the-board cuts, LePage will likely eliminate entire programs, Mills said.
On health care in particular, Mainers can expect a huge difference between Baldacci and LePage, said Dick Woodbury, an independent from Yarmouth who was elected to the Senate on Tuesday.
While Baldacci was a fiscal conservative, he said, he acted like a true Democrat on health care as he made broadening access a priority. Baldacci noted in an interview that Maine is now sixth in the nation in the percentage of people who are covered by health insurance.
Woodbury said Baldacci and the Democrats have relied on Medicaid – a federal program that provides health care for the poor – to expand access.
He said he expects LePage to make significant cuts to Medicaid funding because it has become such a large part of the budget and the spending levels may not be sustainable. While 65 percent of the cost is paid by the federal government, Maine Republicans say the program has grown so large and costly that it is crowding out other parts of the budget and making it difficult to lower high-income tax rates.
LePage has already said he wants to sue the federal government to block provisions of the Affordable Care Act, the federal health care reform law.