President Trump released a proposed budget for the next fiscal year Monday that, if enacted, would have serious consequences across Maine.
The sweeping plan again proposes to eliminate the programs that provide heating oil to low-income Mainers, legal aid to indigent citizens, and grants to towns and cities to rehabilitate housing, infrastructure, and services. It also would stop federal funding for Maine Public’s television and radio outlets, the University of Maine’s Sea Grant research program, and the Wells Reserve at Laudholm, which would again face closure.
The White House sought to eliminate all of these programs last year, but was ultimately spurned by the Republican-controlled Congress and may be again this year. The cuts last year were opposed by Maine’s entire congressional delegation.
Rep. Chellie Pingree, a Democrat representing Maine’s 1st District, said via email that Trump’s proposal “spells disaster for rural states like Maine and demonstrates how out of touch his administration is with the needs of the country.” Pingree, who sits on the House Appropriations Committee, added: “I’ll fight the Trump administration’s proposal to eliminate so many programs critical to Maine.”
Republican Rep. Bruce Poliquin, who represents the 2nd District, said in a statement that he was pleased the budget request strengthened national security and supported the armed forces, but was opposed to many of the president’s proposed program eliminations, including heating assistance, public broadcasting, Sea Grant and Wells.
“As I have said before, we must make sure we maintain support for programs and agencies that serve our families and communities and help protect our environment,” Poliquin said. “As Congress begins its work in the coming months on the federal budget, I will continue to push for continued support for these and other programs and agencies that do good for Maine families.”
Sen. Angus King, an independent who caucuses with the Democrats, said via email that the budget “contains a number of concerning provisions that would roll back programs important to Maine’s economy while also adding to the deficit.” He said he hoped congressional appropriators “prioritize smart spending to stimulate the economy and support people in rural Maine and across the country.”
Neither Sen. Susan Collins nor Gov. Paul LePage responded to requests for comment Monday.
The White House proposal, titled “Efficient, Effective, Accountable: An American Budget,” includes steep increases in military spending and funds to build a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border, while severely reducing funding for Medicare, Medicaid, food stamps and other programs.
Trump seeks to end the $3.39 billion Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, which provides heating assistance to about 45,000 Mainers. His budget document says “the program is no longer a necessity as states have adopted their own policies to protect constituents against energy concerns.”
The cuts also include an end to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Sea Grant program, which in Maine has funded groundbreaking work on how to monitor juvenile lobster populations so researchers can better predict future health of the stock; assisted mussel, scallop and kelp farmers with research and methodological expertise; developed organic certification guidelines for sea vegetable growers; and helped monitor and contain bacteria and other marine pests that plague shellfish growers and harvesters.
Sea Grant researchers created the Fishermen’s Forum, the industry’s premier event, in 1976, and helped found the Portland Fish Exchange, the University of Maine’s Lobster Institute – which researches issues of concern to the industry – and the removal of dams and restoration of fish habitat in the Penobscot River watershed.
The budget also would eliminate funding for the Wells Reserve at Laudholm, New Hampshire’s Great Bay Estuarine Reserve, and 27 other National Estuarine Research Reserves across the country.
“We have great support in our communities and states nationwide and bipartisan support in Congress,” Wells Reserve director Paul Dest told the Press Herald via email. “We are hopeful this will prevail again with the federal FY 19 budget when it is eventually passed.”
The budget would eliminate funding for the $3 billion Community Development Block Grant program, which provides a wide range of funds for Maine cities and towns, claiming “evaluations have been unable to demonstrate program results” and that “state and local governments are better positioned to address local community and economic development needs.” In Portland, the program has been used to fund food pantries, homeless shelters, mental health services, case work, child care subsidies for low-income single parents, a jobs program for panhandlers, community based policing and other initiatives.
At the Department of the Interior, the $13 million fund that helps compensate local communities for lost tax revenue from land included in National Wildlife Refuges also will be closed because “refuges often generate tax revenue for their communities.” Maine has 11 such reserves spread across the state, from the Moosehorn reserve near Calais to the Rachel Carson reserve in Wells and Aroostook reserve in Limestone.
The budget also would eliminate the $385 million Legal Services Corporation, a Nixon-era agency that provides funding for legal aid agencies that help the poor take grievances to court.
In Maine, the agency provides $1.4 million a year to Pine Tree Legal Assistance, which is about half of its annual budget for general legal services. The 50-year-old legal aid agency, which represents poor Mainers in 4,500 cases a year, exposed and ended debtor’s prison in Maine in the 1970s and one of its volunteers exposed a national “robo-signing” scandal among sub-prime mortgage lenders.
The Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which gets $495 million annually and distributes most of that to local public broadcasters, also would be eliminated, depriving Maine’s statewide public radio and television broadcaster, Maine Public, of about $1.7 million, or 14 percent of its annual budget.
The president also seeks to end the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities, which make nearly $3 million in awards to Maine artists and cultural institutions each year, including the Maine State Museum, the Maine Historical Society, and Maine Arts Commission.
In northern Maine, the Northern Border Regional Commission also would be eliminated. The $10 million federal-state partnership has provided funding for infrastructure, land preservation, workforce training, and public services in distressed communities in the “Northern Forest region” of Maine and three other states. The closure, the budget document says, will help encourage “states and localities to partner with the private sector to develop locally tailored solutions to community problems.”
Colin Woodard can be contacted at: