The Maine Heritage Policy Center held a press conference in Augusta today to release a new report revealing the Top 40 fastest growing programs and agencies funded by Maine’s General Fund. The report, Where the Money Is, Volume II, is meant to serve as a starting point for lawmakers and budget writers in Augusta searching for alternatives to across-the-board cuts to balance the budget and achieve long-term fiscal sustainability for Maine government.
The Center’s latest report analyzes a ten year period between the 2002-2003 biennium and the present 2010-2011 biennium. It is the sequel to a 2009 report on the same topic. Center for Education Excellence Director Steve Bowen authored both reports.
Ten years ago, Maine’s Top 40 General Fund programs accounted for just 39.8 percent of total General Fund spending. Today, during the 2010-2011 biennium, those same 40 programs account for 49.3 percent of the total General Fund. In all, Maine is spending $2.7 billion during the 2010-2011 biennium on the Top 40 fastest growing General Fund programs.
Spending by these Top 40 programs continues to far outpace the General Fund average. According to the report, while total General Fund spending grew just 8.8 percent over the past ten years, spending for the Top 40 skyrocketed 35 percent. Remaining General Fund program spending saw a decrease of 8.5 percent.
Of the 40 fastest growing programs, 25 are in either the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) or the Department of Corrections.
For example, in the last ten years, within DHHS, General Fund spending on TANF cash assistance has increased by 72 percent and spending for the Office of Substance Abuse has grown a staggering 185 percent. One Top 40 program within the Department of Corrections, the Charleston Correctional Facility, has seen a 96 percent increase in General Fund spending.
“In the past, a collective, across-the-board cuts approach was used to temporarily close budget gaps,” Bowen, a former state representative who served on the Legislature’s Appropriations Committee explained. “That process ignores the real reasons for Maine’s budget woes. To restore our fiscal house, lawmakers must look at state programs and agencies that are driving General Fund spending. Targeted cuts to the state’s biggest spending culprits are a more common sense solution than spreading the pain of cuts across areas that have had little impact on budget growth.”
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