Raising Taxes is a Local Choice; Governor Says Mayors have Options

April 19, 2012

For Immediate Release: Thursday, April 19, 2012
Contact: Adrienne Bennett (207) 287-2531

AUGUSTA – The following statement from Governor Paul LePage was released today regarding the Mayors’ Coalition news release expressing its disappointment in the Governor’s line item veto regarding general assistance welfare.

“The Mayors’ assertion that the proposed welfare changes will shift millions of dollars in costs from the state to local property taxpayers is a local choice. Under the block grant proposal, the State has offered municipalities’ substantial flexibility with regard to program design, eligibility, nature of assistance, and other program elements. The proposal allows municipalities to customize their general assistance to local needs and to reduce local government welfare costs. While the State cannot mandate municipalities to restructure their general assistance programs, it is an option for Mayors to consider.

During the eight years as Waterville’s Mayor, I was able to significantly lower General Assistance costs through efficient management. I understood the original intent of General Assistance was to provide immediate short-term assistance. Instead, for many communities, it’s become a means to provide long-term housing and welfare benefits.

While general assistance is a State and local partnership, the current path we are on is unaffordable at both levels of government. State spending in this welfare program has grown from nearly $7 million in 2008 to a projected $14.3 million in 2013. I am looking at a way to sustain our welfare programs for Maine’s most needy.”

State funding for general assistance is only a small part of the state local partnership that helps reduce property taxes. The proposed $14.3 million in general assistance pales in comparison to the nearly $1 billion spent on education general purpose aid. Additionally, last year, the Administration assisted lowering costs to property taxpayers statewide by increasing education funding in the biennial budget by $63 million.