United States: State Facing $756 Million "Structural Gap" in Next Biennium; Maine No Longer Paying Dues to the National Governors Association; State Appeals Federal Decision Regarding Food Stamp Benefits; Maine State Housing Authority Audit Released
(Under The Dome: Inside The Maine State House - 10.5.12)
Under the Dome: Inside the Maine State House provides a
high-level overview of recent activity at the Maine State
State Facing $756 Million "Structural Gap" in Next
In order to aid the Governor in assembling his budget proposal,
the Bureau of the Budget issues a report every two years comparing
anticipated spending to anticipated revenues. The most recent
budget report forecasts that spending will exceed revenues by $756
million over the next biennium. Like any forecast, the final
product is only as good as the assumptions that go into the
predictions. Some of the assumptions that the Bureau of the Budget
is required to make are not realistic and the actual
"gap" is likely less than $756 million. One thing is for
certain, under current law, spending will outstrip revenues,
meaning that policy changes regarding taxing and/or spending will
need to be made to keep the State's budget in balance over the
next two years.
Maine No Longer Paying Dues to the National Governors
Governor LePage has decided that Maine will stop paying $60,000
in annual dues to the National Governors Association (NGA). The NGA
provides a forum where Executives from the various states can share
ideas and best practices. The NGA also assists states in lobbying
the federal government on policy and spending decisions that affect
the states. Concerns over the value of paying dues to the NGA led
to the Governor's decision. Some, however, have questioned this
decision, citing the benefits of the NGA.
State Appeals Federal Decision Regarding Food Stamp
In 2011, federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program
(SNAP) guidelines changed but Maine guidelines remained the same,
resulting in 70,000 households receiving overly generous benefits
for four months. This error resulted in $4.8 million in
overpayments in Maine. The Maine Department of Health and Human
Serviced intended to recoup these overpayments by reducing current
benefits. Last week, however, the U.S. Department of Agriculture
directed the State to simply pay for the error and not recoup
payment from beneficiaries. The State has appealed this decision.
It is unclear when a decision on this appeal will be issued.
Maine State Housing Authority Audit Released
On October 1st, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban
Development released an audit report of the Maine State Housing
Authority. The audit was critical of the Authority's oversight
of Section 8 housing, citing a high percentage of this housing that
did not meet federal quality standards when audited. The audit also
questioned the Authority's procurement policy, citing high
costs for information technology. This audit report was released on
the same day that Authority's new Director, John Gallagher,
assumed his position. Director Gallagher expressed confidence in
how the Authority will react to this audit report.
Judicial Branch Highlights Priorities for Next Legislative
Chief Justice Saufley recently asked Governor LePage to include
two specific items in his biennial budget request, which will be
submitted to the Legislature early next year. These two initiatives
are increased funding for courthouse security and funding to help
transition state courts to an electronic filing system. These two
proposals, if fully funded, would result in an increase to the
Judicial Branch budget of $8.2 million over two years. The majority
of this new funding, $4.9 million, would ensure complete courthouse
security. Currently, about half of all state courts have security.
The rest of this funding would be used to begin the process of
establishing an electronic filing system in Maine. The transition
to electronic filing is expected to take about five years and cost
between $10 and $15 million.
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