Senator Rick Bennett Discusses Gov. Mills’ Budget Address
Hello, I am Senator Rick Bennett coming to you from the beautiful foothills and lakes of Western Maine.
Recently, Governor Mills gave her State of the Budget Address to the people of Maine and highlighted some of her priorities for the upcoming biennial budget process. The budget that will serve state government for the next two years, beginning July 1, has to be enacted by June, though in the minds of most, earlier is always better.
As the Governor was speaking, about rekindled hope, new spending and new initiatives; I was thinking about those suffering the most during these times. She didn’t mention how our nursing homes, our front line caregivers battling COVID have been going out of business, suffering with an inability to find and keep nurses, to pay their bills. We need to save them and help them protect our moms and dads. That’s the highest priority. Let’s take care of the most vulnerable and fulfill our existing obligations.
In the oldest state in the nation, nursing homes are getting the worst of the pandemic even while they suffer from serious shortages in both staffing and funds. According to the U.S. Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services, half of all of the deaths in Maine related to COVID-19 since May have been among nursing home residents. Yet none of the $1.25 billion in CARES ACT money sent to Maine was used to aid these struggling facilities. We need to address this chronic funding shortfall and the dire situation it has created before we see more closures.
The week ending January 17, the latest week for which data is available, Maine lost an average of three residents per day to COVID, and two of those were in facilities suffering from staff shortages. In my district in Western Maine there are beds in nursing homes that people should be in, but the facilities cannot find staff given the widespread shortage of workers. Because of this many facilities have stopped taking in new patients. This, in turn, has affected hospitals who cannot clear beds for new COVID victims because they cannot send outgoing patients to nursing homes.
Barring extraordinary circumstances, all budget bills require a 2/3 vote of the Legislature for passage, and since the current makeup of the House and Senate do not give any one party a majority of that size, it will take some bipartisan efforts to reach any agreement.
This requirement makes it necessary that the Governor and the Legislature, Democrats and Republicans work together to find solutions as a team. As legislators, we need to get back together and do our jobs. Large companies all across Maine have brought their employees back to the workplace safely and successfully. We can follow their example and do this as well.
While we are at it, we also need to encourage schools to return to in-person learning. More and more we all hear stories about students who are not coping well without the daily social interactions that are so important to an adolescent or teenager.
As to spending, Republicans intend to hold the Governor to her promise not to raise taxes. This includes full conformity with the federal tax code and no taxes on PPP funds. We also need to focus on getting the economy back on track and getting Mainers working again.
Sadly, the pandemic is still with us and many parts of the economy have not yet rebounded. With the state currently carrying $7.6 billion in debt, this is the time to set priorities and make some tough decisions, just like most families are doing across Maine.
This is Senator Rick Bennett. I wish you and yours a wonderful weekend.