Given the continuing economic uncertainty and forthcoming federal cuts, Gov. Paul LePage is smart to be proactive in looking for places to trim the state budget.
Beyond setting the target, the governor set the right tone. “We have to prioritize, we have to live within our means and we have to use our resources wisely,” Gov. LePage said Wednesday. “Do I have all the answers now? No, but by the end of the year we will have a much better feel for where we need to be going.”
In his weekly radio address, the governor talked of identifying fraud and wasteful use of tax dollars. He must understand that cutting $100 million out of the state budget will take more than ferreting out waste and fraud.
He is right that it is about prioritizing. This is no easy task. Difficult questions must be asked and answered: Are tax cuts a higher priority than ensuring the state’s safety net is serving the neediest people? Should every department be cut a little or should the work focus on the Departments of Health and Human Services and Education, which account for about 80 percent of state funding?
Fortunately, the governor put together a good group to answer some of these questions.
Finance Commissioner Sawin Millett will chair the Streamline and Prioritize Core Government Services Task Force. Mr. Millett stepped up earlier this year to help craft the biennial budget, as well as two supplemental budgets for the fiscal year that just ended. Mr. Millett, who was also finance commissioner for Gov. John McKernan, is highly respected by lawmakers of both parties.
The four lawmakers on the panel are Sen. Richard Rosen, R-Bucksport; Sen. Dawn Hill, D-York; Rep. John Martin, D-Eagle Lake; and Rep. Dennis Keschl, R-Belgrade.
All are members of the Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee, which Sen. Rosen chairs.
The other members named late last month are: Joe Bruno, former GOP party chairman; Phil Harriman, a former legislator and business consultant; David Flanagan, former CEO of Central Maine Power; George Kerr, a former Democratic lawmaker from Old Orchard Beach; Sue Charron, director of social services for the city of Lewiston; David Winslow of the Maine Hospital Association; and Ryan Low, former finance commissioner under Gov. John Baldacci and current administrator at the University of Maine at Farmington.
The breadth of knowledge — financial, political and practical — among group members is impressive and bodes well for their budget work.
This group, working with department heads, should oversee the work of finding the larger budget cuts.