President’s Budget Wrong for Maine

Maine Center for Economic Policy releases detail of impacts
Friday February 22nd, 2008
Nicole Witherbee

Augusta, Maine —  Thousands of Mainers would feel the impact of cuts in education, environmental protection, child care and a host of other services under the President’s 2009 budget, according to The Maine Center for Economic Policy.  Maine would lose an estimated $81 million in federal support for a broad range of critical programs, even as large tax cuts for wealthy households would be extended.

“This budget says we can afford more tax cuts for millionaires, but we can’t afford to adequately invest in clean water, early education for children, or cancer research.” said Nicole Witherbee, federal budget analyst for the Center.  “Those are the wrong priorities for Maine and our congressional delegation should not follow the President’s lead when they vote on the budget resolution in the next few weeks.”

The President’s budget would shift millions of dollars in costs to Maine at a time when Maine is already projecting almost $200 million in deficits.  That would force Maine to raise taxes or weaken public services even more than will already be needed to balance its budget.

The cuts in the President’s budget would affect a broad range of services, including many that have already absorbed sizable cuts in recent years.  According to a report released today by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, the budget would:

· Continue recent year cuts in K-12 education, even as the state must meet federal No Child Left Behind mandates. Nationally, funding would be almost 10 percent lower in 2009 than in 2004, when the federal government reversed course and began reducing its investment in K-12 education. Under the President’s budget, Maine would receive $15.9 million less in 2009 than it received in 2004 “We all want our children to be well educated so they can compete in a global economy, and that requires investing in education.  This budget fails to make that investment,” said Mark Gray, Executive Director of the Maine Education Association.  Funding for Maine’s vocational and adult education programs would also be cut by $6.3 million compared to last year.

· Cut Maine’s child care funding by $100,000, marking the eighth straight year of frozen or reduced funding.  Maine’s funding has fallen by $1.3 million over those eight years.  Nationally, funding would be nearly 19 percent lower in 2009 than in 2002.

· Continue recent year cuts Head Start funding.  Nationally, funding would be 12 percent lower in 2009 than in 2002, even though the number of poor children under age five – Head Start’s target population – has risen significantly over that period.    Head Start programs in Maine would get $3.7 million less in 2009 than they did in 2002. When faced with funding cuts, Maine’s Head Start programs have several choices.  They can serve fewer children; cut back on teachers’ salaries, classroom materials, and the specialized services they provide to children; or try to raise money from other sources.

“Quality child care and early education provide children with the foundation they need for future success.  We need to make sure that more – not fewer – children have access to these programs,” said Elinor Goldberg of Maine Children’s Alliance.

· Cut Maine’s low-income energy assistance funding by $9.5 million. This cut is equivalent to the cost of providing assistance to 11,500 Maine households.  The Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) helps vulnerable households to pay their home heating and air conditioning bills.  The increase in energy prices over the past few years has made LIHEAP more important than ever.  Yet the President’s budget would cut LIHEAP by roughly $570 million nationally next year, forcing states to cut back on the number of people they help or the amount of help they give each household.  “Too many households – including our vulnerable elderly – already struggle to pay their utility bills, especially as energy prices have soared in recent years.  This budget will leave more households out in the cold,” said Fenwick Fowler, Chairman of the Maine Community Action Association.

· Cut Maine’s funding for clean and safe drinking water by $1.1 million.  Some of the biggest cuts in the President’s budget would come in environmental programs, such as grants from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to help states and localities fund sewage treatment plans, wastewater treatment, and other water clean-up projects.  Under the President’s budget, investment in this program would be cut by more than 20 percent compared to last year.  These cuts come on top of significant cuts in recent years.  Maine would receive $8.5 million less for clean and safe drinking water in 2009 than it did in 2001.

· Cut Maine’s community development funding by $3.8 million.  The Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) helps fund a broad range of community development activities in Maine and other states, including housing and homelessness programs, improvements to public facilities such as senior and youth centers, and economic development.  Under the President’s budget, CDBG funding for 2009 would be 45 percent below its 2001 level.  Maine would receive $13 million less for this program in 2009 than it did in 2001.  “These cuts would make it harder for cities and towns across Maine to rehabilitate run-down buildings, combat homelessness, and bring development to struggling communities,” said Aaron Shapiro, Office of Community Development for Cumberland County.

· Cut Maine’s funding for repairing, modernizing, and replacing public housing units by $1.2 million.   Nationally, funding has already been cut by nearly one-third since 2001, and Maine’s share of that funding has fallen by $4.2 million over that period.  Under the President’s budget, funding in 2009 would be 45 percent below the 2001 level. Mark Adelson of the Portland Housing Authority had this to say, “Affordable housing remains one of the biggest problems facing our communities.  Public housing is a part of the answer for Maine’s lowest income and vulnerable residents, but if we fail to invest in maintaining and modernizing that housing, our stock of affordable housing will just get smaller.”

· Cut Maine’s education and training programs for adults, dislocated workers, and youth by a total of $1.4 million.  Nationally, each of these programs has been cut by between 29 and 39 percent since 2001, and Maine has lost $4.6 million in funding for these programs over that period.

“We can protect our most vulnerable citizens, strengthen our infrastructure, and grow our economy all while balancing the federal budget,” states Nicole Witherbee.  “The President’s budget won’t do these things, but Congress still could.”