Opinion

Mills finds middle ground with budget

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If you’re preaching a prophecy of doom or are red-faced angry about Gov. Janet Mills’ budget or her budget address, delivered Monday night, then you probably also get mad at vanilla wafers.

The entire thing – from the length of the speech to its simple, direct construction to its content – was an exercise in moderation and pragmatism. In about a half an hour, Mills’ laid out her budget priorities for the next two years.

It found a mid-point in a highly polarized world; a budget built on restraint in a political world where there is little.

Take for example some of the key items from the Mills’ speech, which detailed several of the proposals contained in her two-year $8 billion state budget.

No new taxes or fees.

A contingency account in case of cost overruns in Medicaid.

Additional Maine state troopers. A beefed up computer crimes unit. A re-opened correctional facility in Washington County and more money for county jails. More security at courthouses. And a new position in the Attorney General’s Office to train investigators to go after criminals who prey on seniors.

Mills talked about jobs, workforce development, veterans’ services and public health.

Oh, the humanity of Mills’ “liberal” budget.

Back before the Republican Party completely lost it’s policy mind, you could have heard those same ideas from them and you wouldn’t have batted an eye.

Mills avoided hot-blooded rhetoric or red meat for her base. She threw no punches at President Donald Trump or her predecessor in the Blaine House. In fact, it was through her calm demeanor and thoughtful policies – built upon facts and science – that she drew the best contrast with the two blowhards.

That’s not to say that Mills didn’t deliver on her campaign promises. In fact, if you look at her policy ideas in the budget and the issues she talked about during the campaign, they align.

She funded Medicaid expansion – as promised – and she increased funding for K-12 education. While progressives have pushed relentlessly on both fronts, it’s critical to remember that voters have also been very clear about their desires. They voted for both policies in statewide referenda. These investments are not controversial, unless you happen to be a member of the Republican minority in the Maine House or Senate.

Mills also proposed to increase funding for higher education – making college more affordable for Maine families through scholarships – and for a voluntary statewide pre-K program.

Overall, the budget increases state spending by about 11 percent, but it falls within the parameters of anticipated revenue as projected out by the non-partisan Revenue Forecasting Committee.

Much of Mills’ speech focused on public health, starting with the opioid epidemic, which continues to claim the life of more than one Mainer day, and continuing through a renewed effort to combat youth smoking and to rebuild the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

Through two personal stories, Mills brought home both the horror of our state’s fight against opioids and the miserable truth that no family is immune from the danger.

As the father of a son and a daughter, I struggled when Mills talked about Maine State Police Detective David Yankowsky and Oxford County Sheriff’s Deputy Matt Baker.

Both lost children to overdose.

As Mills recounted the tragedies – the story of a Baker desperately trying to revive his daughter with CPR and failing – it brought home why all of us have a stake in public policy.

My heart breaks for them. If you think that the tone set by the governor doesn’t matter and the budget is just a bunch of numbers, you are wrong.

After eight years of government by hammer, Mills, instead, used a rapier. Sharp, focused and pointed at policies that can have a positive impact on the lives of Mainers.

And by the way, I love vanilla wafers, particularly in banana pudding.

David Farmer is a public affairs, political and media consultant in Portland, where he lives with his wife and two children. He was senior adviser to Democrat Mike Michaud’s 2014 campaign for governor.

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