Franklin Countys First News

Letter to the Editor: The rainy day is here and Maine is ready

In addition to our work helping constituents to navigate the difficulties we face with the COVID-19 pandemic, members of the Legislature are concerned about the impact on revenues that the state relies on to fund important services like schools, nursing homes and property tax relief.

To be sure, what we are now experiencing is one of the most abrupt and devastating fiscal catastrophes in American history. Fortunately, Maine is better prepared for this situation than some states, though you would never know it from some of the false information being spread on social media.

One such false claim asserts that Gov. Mills started spending money from the “Rainy Day Fund” (actually called the Budget Stabilization Fund, or BSF) shortly after getting into office. Some believe, wrongly, that she spent the entire fund. The truth is that Maine’s Rainy Day Fund has more money available today than it ever has to help us meet the challenges ahead.

With considerable economic worries ahead, we need to know what is real and what is false in order to deal effectively with the difficulties we face. So let’s untangle that claim, starting with the tiny kernel of truth that got it started.

Back in 2013, the Riverview Psychiatric Center was decertified by the federal government due to patient abuse, record-keeping problems and other errors. Decertification led to a loss of federal funding, but the impact of that loss was put on hold while the LePage Administration tried to fix the problems and appealed the decision. When Gov. LePage lost the appeal, Maine had to pay back the federal government. Gov. LePage requested that $65 million in the BSF be set aside to cover that repayment, which the Legislature granted in the budget. This is called the “Riverview reserve.”

In the summer of 2018, the BSF balance stood at almost $273 million, but, because of the Riverview reserve, only about $208 million was actually available. In 2019, we added almost $20 million to the BSF, but by that point, the debt to the federal government due to the mismanagement of Riverview had grown by $14.5 million.

Between March and November of 2019, Maine paid off the Riverview debt. And since, Gov. Mills and the Legislature have continued to add to the BSF, which now stands at $258 million.

In addition to the BSF, Maine has other reserves to help us through this crisis. We have $29 million in a special reserve account to cover health care expenses. The Legislature left $193 million unspent in the state’s fund balance. Maine is projected to receive increased federal support for health care for seniors, people with disabilities and uninsured families, freeing up to $110 million in the General Fund. The Mills administration has also identified up to $250 million in other unspent balances and reserves. So we have substantial reserves for dealing with immediate shortfalls.

Having spent a good part of my early life in poverty, I understand well the mechanics of climbing out of a tough financial spot: reduce spending and maximize income. Gov. Mills immediately put a halt to all discretionary spending, including a hiring freeze for all of state government. If and when we must, we will use our reserves to cover the shortfall in our income. I have been communicating the thoughts and needs of my constituents to the Administration every day, making sure that their ideas for safely reopening businesses are heard and understood. Science has to be our guide, so we must listen to the experts to keep people as safe as possible. But we have to explore every economically-helpful move we can make within those guidelines.

By reopening businesses as much as we safely can, Maine will bring in more revenue. We will also be getting about $1.25 billion in federal coronavirus funding. Unfortunately, the Trump Administration is limiting that money to be used only for additional expenses due to the coronavirus response, not to make up for the loss of revenues. In a state like Maine, where a lot of our revenue comes from hard-hit industries like tourism and hospitality, we need funding that suits our situation. We need to keep those businesses afloat until they are able to fully operate again. We continue to lobby for flexibility in the use of that funding to replace those shortfalls in hopes that the Trump Administration will understand how critical it is to our state.

If you have specific suggestions about businesses or activities that can be safely restarted, please give me a call or send me an email. We all want to help bring Maine back to good health, I am delighted to work with anyone to make that happen.

Rep. Tina Riley, D-Jay, is serving her second term in the Maine House and represents Jay, Livermore Falls and part of Livermore.

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13 Responses »

  1. LePage wanted to build a separate housing unit at the prison for the "criminally insane" which would have cost $10-$15 million and would have erased the debt to the feds altogether, but the house knew better like they think they always do. Riverview is a joke. With its 56 beds and the criminals occupying more than half of those. For just a little more than the cost of Riverview, Baldacci could have entirely revamped AMHI, which sits behind Riverview btw. AMHI had 1200 beds, 26 offices, a full kitchen, a trades area, full workshop for onsite maintenance, etc ample space to house mentally ill and substance abusers, and room for outpatient care, instead we pay for heat and lights in a building that the state archives use 1/8th of and are stuck with the poorly run, inefficient, not effective, coffer cancer that is Riverview.

    Trump is not responsible for filling the gaps in the state's short comings in the budget. But I don't recall the house telling Mills not to expend the money for pointless solar panels at the Blaine house, or buying the E-car charging stations for Boothbay Harbor or granting full state benefits to 20,000 asylum fakers, expanding DHHS by 4 committees to do the jobs that we still pay the old committees to do. And Mills pretty much vetoed the nursing home funding as it is because she didn't sign it. But Mills is to blame for the current state of affairs in Maine, people can't eat in a restaurant or take in a movie, attend church etc, but they can gather in large groups around the state and protest, are protests covid-19 proof or something?

  2. I appreciate Tina’s support for her teammate but I’d be careful how closely I associated myself with Mills if I wanted to get re-elected. Spin it however you want but most know she’s not even close to being fiscally conservative!

  3. HB,

    You do realize that you have a constitutional right to protest I assume and you are aware of the fact that you do not have a constitutional right to eat at a restaurant or go see a movie etc?

    Assuming you are aware of those facts, Why do you insist on making statements that are nonsensical in order to push your tired narrative that Mills is the boogeyman? Will it not stand on its own perhaps...

  4. Laughable, There is no right to protest written anywhere in the first amendment, there is however religious freedom and the free exercise there of. it also says you can petition the government for a redress of grievances, for which there is a process, but protesting happens purely because the government allows it to happen.

  5. HB, don't forget the fancy signs she bought for her brother.

    Laughable, the idea that legality constitutes right and wrong is laughable.

  6. There is no Constitutional right to protest. The First Amendment protects your rights to wag your tongue in public and to “peaceably assemble”. You can put those together to find a right to protest; someone else can find a right to have dinner in a restaurant.

    What’s really laughable (Good name choice) is to believe that a virus reads the Constitution before deciding who to infect.

  7. Frostproof, Implied rights mean nothing.

  8. "or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances".

    It is "allowed" by the government because it is a constitutional right. Assembly is simply a old fashioned word that has fallen out of use, it would have covered a protest at the time it was written with out question.

    Oddly enough, upon further searching, I still am unable to find a reference to restaurants or movie theaters...

    "The First Amendment to the United States Constitution states "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances."

  9. There will be so many Democrats that are going to be shocked when LePage walks back in as Governor in 2022 for eight more years.

  10. Anonymous person hiding behind the HB pseudonym -

    LePage's attempts to circumvent the required Legislative oversight to fix the Riverview fiasco were insulting to everyone who voted for a representative. He made it clear that he was willing to waste money and create a less-than-optimum arrangement rather than let the people participate in the necessary new facility. And he did. He overspent, then locked us in with a contractor with a very spotty track record.

    It is absolutely the responsibility of the federal government to help cover the cost of disasters like hurricanes and pandemics. States cannot reasonably plan for every disaster - you would not want the state to hoard that kind of money. This arrangement makes it possible for states to require balanced budgets and is one reason why the federal government cannot require itself to have a balanced budget - though it could do a far better job on that than it does.

    Government requires transparency in order to keep the power in the hands of the people, and whenever a governor tries to get around that, it does not matter whether they are Republican or Democrat, their efforts must be held up to daylight.

    The point of this column is that a certain right-wing media outlet in this state put forth another of its lies, and far too many people bought it. It's important that those who care about truth and the actual state of our finances understand what really happened - and who is lying to you.

  11. Mizer,

    Your comment is laughable. LePage never received 50% of the vote nor never had a positive approval rating. He rode a Republican wave in 2010 inching past the finish line by 10,000 votes and only receiving a gross 38%. What makes you think Republicans would nominate him again? Joe Brennan (who was actually a popular Governor) ran again for a third time in 1990, lost, and a fourth time in 1994, once again losing. Just because LePage was the shiny bright object of the radical right 10 years ago doesn't mean he will be again in 2022. There will be many other Republicans vying for the nomination and I can't wait for the dogfight. It will just put Dems in a better position as the Reps cannibalize each other. Of course, that's assuming he even runs. He said Trump was going to make him an ambassador. That didn't happen. He also said he was going to run against Angus King in 2018. That didn't happen either. All these guys like Trump/LePage do is talk big and do nothing.

  12. Thank-you to Tina for bringing facts to the discussion. Your level-headed and well-reasoned approach to issues and solutions is why you are such a good legislator and represent rural Maine so well. Your service is much appreciated.

  13. Dear "offended" Rep,
    No one cares about someone using a pseudonym unless they hit a nerve. HB is good at that. I don't care for most of his opinions either but...
    Calm down and grow some hide.
    It's a tough world...
    No one is making you do it.

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