April 25, 2023

Enacted state budget continues services, prevents shutdown

MSEA-SEIU President Dean Staffieri at the Maine AFL-CIO Labor Lobby Day news conference March 30: “The State must end the State Employee Pay Gap and start paying state workers comparable to their peers. It’s the right thing to do – and it’s also necessary for the State to recruit and retain qualified workers.”

By Dean Staffieri
President, MSEA-SEIU Local 1989

Once again, leaders of the Maine Legislature’s Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee are wisely taking a two-part approach to the two-year state budget. The first part, approved March 30 by the Legislature and signed into law by Governor Mills with our strong support, dealt with current services that the Legislature has already approved. The first part ensures Maine will keep its commitments and pay its bills. New initiatives will be reviewed and acted upon in the second part hopefully by June 30. Lawmakers in the 1990s and early 2000s approached the state budget the same way and for a good reason: Passing a current-services budget is a win for all Maine people.

The continuing-services budget might not make for exciting headlines but it does make for good government. It provides stability for our communities working on municipal and school budgets. Knowing what municipalities can expect from the state in terms of revenue sharing and education funding means our municipal and school leaders can budget more effectively. Maine families, communities and small business owners deserve this type of stability, transparency and leadership from all levels of government.

Perhaps most importantly, approaching the state budget in two parts prevented a state government shutdown on July 1. It’s only fair to our communities, the people and businesses who rely on state services, and state employees. Every two years, state employees have been working under the threat that they could be locked out of work come July 1. Thousands of Maine workers, from plow drivers to 911 dispatchers to human service caseworkers, have been treated as collateral damage from budget fighting in Augusta. For too long, basic essential services such as courts, road construction and Maine’s essential safety net have been political bargaining chips in state budget negotiations. This must stop immediately. The last thing Maine people need is another state government shutdown or a threat of one.

Nearly six years ago, in the summer of 2017, instead of reporting for work as they always do, thousands of my coworkers were locked out of their jobs throughout Maine State Government.

Highway and bridge workers, court workers, unemployment insurance workers, Maine State Library workers, environmental protection workers, health and human services workers, along with building maintenance workers and many others all were held hostage in a budget fight between the former governor and state legislators. It was all so unnecessary and extremely disruptive to services. Half of Maine’s courthouses were closed during the 2017 shutdown, leaving only one courthouse open per county. Right now, Maine’s court system faces such an enormous backlog of cases that it won’t be cleared until 2028 even with the proposed hiring of four new judges. The last thing Maine’s justice system needs is another state government shutdown.

At the time of the 2017 shutdown, I was working as a child protective caseworker supervisor for the Maine Department of Health and Human Services.
The children in state custody come from every Maine community. We are there for these children 24/7, every day of the year. We also are there for any other Maine child at risk of abuse or neglect. We are truly the place of last resort – after all other options failed.

So when we as state workers, at state agencies, have our doors closed due to a state government shutdown, it’s extremely disruptive to the people who are counting on us the most – the children. It’d be unconscionable for lawmakers to interrupt services to them by shutting down state government again over budget disagreements.

Using public workers and public services as pawns in political gamesmanship must never happen again in our great State of Maine. The continuing-services budget keeps state services running uninterrupted. The Legislature and administration now can consider updated revenue projections and a supplemental budget can be developed and debated. We’ll be there every step of the way to make sure the priorities of Maine’s working families are heard.

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