Read the full report | As legislators begin dealing with a state biennial budget deficit reported to be more than $840 million, they would do well to learn from the famous bank robber Willie Sutton, who, when asked why he robbed banks, is reported to have said “because that’s where the money is.”
For lawmakers to focus on the chief causes of Maine’s overspending, the obvious place to start looking would be a list of the programs with the fastest-growing budgets. In order to identify those programs, we undertook an analysis of the 10-year History of Appropriations by Program report authored by the Legislature’s Office of Fiscal and Program Review and available on the Legislature’s website.1
This 50-page report tracks General Fund spending by each state government program, from Fiscal Year 2000 to Fiscal Year 2009, organized by department and General Fund account number. To find the fastest-growing programs in state government, we simply tracked spending increases over the five biennial budget periods from 2000-2001 to 2008-2009 and ranked programs by rate of increase. Combined, the “Top-40” fastest growing programs are budgeted to spend $1,244,060,646 more during the 2008-2009 biennium than they spent during the 2000-2001 biennium, an increase of 66 percent.
The remaining 551 General Fund programs listed in the state’s 10-year history of Appropriations by Program report grew by an average of only 2 percent over this same time period. These Top 40 programs have such a high degree of responsibility for overall General Fund budget growth, that had they simply grown at the same 26 percent rate that was the average for all state programs in the 10-year History of Appropriations by Program report, spending for the 2008-2009 biennial would have been $753 million less than it is budgeted to be, which would largely solve the budget crisis now confronting policymakers in Augusta.
The Legislature and the Governor could take a giant step toward sustainably solving the state’s perennial budget woes by dealing in a meaningful way with the rapidly rising costs of the 40 programs outlined here. All the “across-the-board” cuts in the world won’t solve the budget crisis unless these major cost drivers are addressed. They are where the money is.