On Thanksgiving Day, turkeys were not the only ones getting stuffed. Newspapers around the state announced that Governor Baldacci was proposing $16 million in higher education cuts as part of his fix for the $113 million Medicaid mismanagement cost overruns. Maine college students sat down to their Thanksgiving meals knowing that they would soon be stuffed with higher tuition, halfway through their school year, if the Governor's proposed cuts become law.
We disagree with Governor Baldacci's budget priorities and simply will not support a budget that starts by punishing Maine college students with higher tuition. We thought that there was one thing we all agreed on; encouraging young people to stay in Maine, go to college and obtain good-paying professional jobs locally. We are confused by the sudden about face by the Governor.
Here are some facts:
One thing is driving this latest budget "crisis:" Medicaid mismanagement.
Since the Governor took office in January, he has added 22,000 Mainers to the Medicaid rolls and spending is skyrocketing. The current Medicaid shortfall, just for the next seven months, is $113 million, not to mention another $150+ million estimated for the next fiscal year. The Governor has proposed a variety of one-time fixes to whittle that $113 million down to $22 million. He then stated that the remaining $22 million would come from cuts from across all state agencies with details to be provided at a 'later date.'
Then comes Black Thursday. The details arrive. The news reports that $16 million of that $22 million will come from higher education, with $13 million from the University and $3 million from the Community College Systems.
What is the direct impact on Maine students? For the Community College System this cut in state aid could force a full-time student to shell out another $300 in tuition or $600 for both semesters. For the University of Maine System, this cut would result in $960 in additional tuition per semester ($1,920/year). For people trying to make ends meet in Maine, that could be the difference between attending classes and not attending classes.
Pathetically, higher education only makes up 8.6% of State's budget. Yet, Maine's colleges and universities are saddled with 73% of his $22 million 'fix.' The irony in all this is that Medicaid already got one of the largest increases of almost $45 million (before the $113 million overrun) while higher education was told to make do with what they received last year.
In his Inaugural Address, the Governor stated that he wanted to "keep young people in Maine and. send a clear message to our young people who have left: come home."
Well, he accomplished part of his goal. He sent a VERY clear message to young people: Stay in Maine so that the Governor can raise your college tuition.
It's all about priorities.
If poor Medicaid management at DHS resulted in 22,000 more people joining Medicaid, why should we punish the 46,000 students attending the University and Community Colleges?
As Senate leaders, we offer the following suggestions that address the root cause of the problem:
- Cap Medicaid enrollment and start better managing Medicaid spending.
- Do not raise college tuition and remove the proposed higher education cuts.
- Suspend the 78,000 person Medicaid expansion scheduled to begin July 2004. Since Mainers can join Medicaid whether or not their small employer joins Dirigo Health, this dramatic Medicaid expansion will further overwhelm the Medicaid budget and force even greater cuts to higher education (read tuition increases) next year.
The choice is clear: Do we want more people with college diplomas on the wall or Medicaid cards in their wallets? Our choice: college diplomas. We encourage the Governor to join us.
Paul Davis (R-Sangerville) is the Maine Senate Republican Leader & Chandler Woodcock (R-Farmington) is the Assistant Republican Leader.