Maine voters moved the state left last week, electing Democratic majorities in the state House of Representatives and Senate and a Democrat to the Blaine House in a significant political shift. Mainers also elected their first female governor ever in Janet Mills. Plus, 39 percent of the incoming 186-seat Legislature will be female — an increase of 10 women from the previous Legislature.
Troy Jackson of Allagash is the new Senate president-elect, while Sara Gideon of Freeport retains her House speakership. With 89 Democrats in the 151-member House and 21 in the 35-seat Senate, Governor-elect Mills will have large majorities to work with as well as the votes to control all constitutional offices, including her former attorney general position, state treasurer and more.
The challenges ahead are numerous, and expensive to resolve. While the previous eight years saw heated political battles involving outgoing Governor LePage, there is no denying his efforts to shepherd significant welfare reform through the Legislature, lower overall tax rates and reduce bureaucratic red tape. Under his leadership, the state repaid its Medicaid debt to hospitals, funded the state employee retirement program and restored a rainy day fund that had been eradicated by previous Legislatures.
Governor-elect Mills has indicated she will immediately enact voter-approved Medicaid expansion and address the state’s opioid crisis. We agree that more needs to be done about the drug problem, but where will the money come from? The state budget shows little financial flexibility under the weight of its current commitments and increasing education program expectations. Many new legislators ran on platforms of expanding government services to citizens. With finite resources, new revenue streams can only mean more taxes.
Maine’s economy is primarily a service-sector economy heavily dependent upon tourism dollars. Much of our manufacturing industry is gone, our energy costs remain high, plus Maine’s citizens are the oldest in the country — and aging quickly. Health care costs are eclipsing any realized income gains. Expanding social programs with shrinking income streams will prove daunting. Tax hikes could undermine the best of intentions and submarine a fragile state economy.
Senate President-elect Jackson recently stated that Senate Democrats “have an opportunity to show the people of Maine what smart, fair and responsible leadership looks like. This means working together to lower property taxes, make health care more affordable and invest in education.”
In full control of the Legislature and the Governor’s Office, Democrats will have the opportunity to display the bipartisanship and spirit of compromise so often lacking in today’s political discourse — or not. Democrats will need to walk the walk, talk the talk, and deliver on their promises and ambitious goals, as they now own the important issues of the day. We wish them well, as we all will be affected.