AUGUSTA, Maine (AP) — H. Sawin Millett Jr., a former teacher who has decades of service in two branches of Maine state government, gave lawmakers both a history lesson and a peek into the future on Monday before they unanimously endorsed his nomination as finance commissioner.

The Appropriations Committee’s 12-0 vote, with one absentee, virtually assures Millett’s Senate confirmation to head the state Department of Administrative and Financial Services at a precarious time for Maine finances. The LePage administration and lawmakers face a gap of several hundred million dollars between expected revenues and spending obligations in the budget they must fashion for the two years starting July 1.

But Millett, 73, who was a math teacher before his career in public service, told lawmakers he’s helped the state weather similar “fiscal gales” in the past.

As finance commissioner under former Gov. John McKernan, Millett watched revenues nosedive and lawmakers clash during a budget stalemate that shut down state government for 17 days in 1991. Millett calls that “the year from hell,” a time in which legislative civility and bipartisanship deteriorated and finally dissolved.

Millett kept negotiations going and ultimately saw a budget approved. But several years passed and a new administration, led by independent Gov. Angus King, was seated before “solid” recovery took place, he said.

Looking at the latest recession, Millett warned that there will be no quick turnaround in the state’s fiscal picture, although he said “we are seeing some signs of stability.”

“I don’t feel real good about the number of jobs being created, and the speed with which the private sector is bringing back people to full 40-hour jobs and expanding the number of filled jobs, but I do think that that will come,” he said. As in the 1990s, Millett said, a solid recovery will probably not come for a few more years.

But the big difference this time is that the level of civility in the State House has improved, he said. “We’ve come a long way,” added Millett, who would become Gov. Paul LePage’s budget point man.

He promised to deliver to lawmakers by Feb. 11 a spending package that balances the budget, includes no new taxes or fees, and includes a number of changes “that won’t all be popular, and won’t all be easy sells.” But he noted that the process of restructuring state government is only beginning in this budget.

No one spoke out against Millett at the hearing, and lawmakers from both parties spoke in his support.

“Over the six years that Sawin and I served together in the House, the Legislature passed both partisan and bipartisan budget documents, and all of them were improved because they had Sawin’s fingerprints on them,” said House Minority Leader Emily Cain, D-Orono.

Millett “has the ability to work through and find common ground. He commands respect, and gives it in return,” said Cain, a former House chairwoman of Appropriations.

Millett’s 12 years of legislative service include being the ranking Republican on the Appropriations Committee. He’s also been education commissioner and associate commissioner of the former mental health department under different governors.


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