Weekly Radio Address

Senator James Hamper – Budgetary Focus

As I prepare for the start of my last session in the State Senate, I can’t help but look back on the last fifteen years since I was first elected to the House, and particularly the five years I have served on the Appropriations Committee, including four years as chair.

With the recent change in administration and legislative leadership there seems to me to have been a marked shift in the seriousness with which elected officials treat the state budget. This is especially important as the number of taxpayer dollars that state government collects and spends is growing rapidly.

Hello, I am James Hamper, State Senator from District 19.

With the recent change in administration and legislative leadership there seems to me to have been a marked shift in the seriousness with which elected officials treat the state budget. This is especially important as the number of taxpayer dollars that state government collects and spends is growing rapidly.

Between the last two-year state budget enacted in 2017 and the latest one that began this July, spending from the General Fund alone grew by $884 million. Actually, $883,794,930 to be precise—and in the budget, precision matters.

Overall, however, the state budget includes 35 different funds, and spending from all of them now totals just under $20 billion. When you add up these totals, the state budget calls for spending $2.7 billion more than just two years ago.

That’s an increase of 16% during a time when the cost of living rose by less than 5% over that same period. This means our spending is growing three times faster than the cost of things.

By comparison, the previous budget two years ago was just 3.8% larger than its predecessor.

This huge increase in spending might be a bit less concerning if elected officials took the budget process as seriously as they did in years past. Unfortunately, this does not appear to be the case.

In a radio interview last week, the host questioned Governor Mills on her budget, with some particularly tough questions on spending. Specifically, the host asked whether she would agree that the budget was a billion dollars more than the previous one, rounding up the $884 million General Fund account.

Here is that exchange: [sound clip– 6 secs]

Host: “Would you agree it’s a billion dollars more?”

Gov. Mills: “I can’t assent to that because I am not really sure that that’s accurate.”

In my experience, it is a remarkable thing to have a governor who doesn’t know a basic figure from the state budget. And unfortunately, the governor is not alone.

A few days later, my colleague State Sen. Erin Herbig, who represents her party on a local television show in Augusta each week, appeared on a different radio program and was asked some similarly tough questions about spending.

Here is Senator Herbig’s response: [sound clip– 5 secs]

“First of all, it wasn’t a billion dollars, it was six hundred million. So, I think we should get that fact straight.”

When pressed again a few moments later, Senator Herbig repeated her assertion. [sound clip – 9 secs]

“This budget did increase spending by six hundred million, not a billion, six hundred million.”

Even if one only looks at the General Fund and not the other 34 funds that make up the budget, Senator Herbig is off by nearly a quarter billion dollars. Among all spending however, the total amount is four times her estimate.

Spending taxpayer dollars is the most critical role and function of any government. In that role, it is essential that the people trust their government to do the right things.

It is enormously important that those who take on this responsibility make the time to get the facts and the numbers right. In my experience, this was always a priority of both parties in the past.

Sadly, I have seen a decline in the seriousness with which those in Augusta are treating the budget process, and this does not bode well for our state’s fiscal health.

As I prepare to leave state service after this upcoming session, it is my sincere hope that this trend reverses, and fiscal responsibility returns to Augusta.

Again, I am James Hamper, State Senator from District 19.

Have a fiscally responsible day!

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