Rev. Dr. Jodi Cohen Hayashida

As a person of faith, I take seriously the fact that our state budget is a moral document that reflects our deepest beliefs about who and what we truly value.

Every decision the state makes about how to allocate the money entrusted to it by its people is an embodiment of those beliefs. Which means it’s complicated, even in the best of times.

Right now, legislators and Gov. Janet Mills are working to figure out how to fund state programs, with a financial picture that looks very healthy. Maine has been lucky over the past several years to have leadership that plans for the future with care and intentionality, resulting in a completely full rainy day fund.

With nearly one billion dollars put away, Gov. Mills has said that Maine is “better prepared today to withstand an economic downturn than at any other time in state history.” The foresight that compelled our leaders to save so deliberately has been a true virtue, the careful and thoughtful stewardship of our collective resources.

But every virtue pushed to its extreme becomes a vice.

The rainy day fund is so full our leaders are barred by law from adding to it, yet the governor has advocated saving over $100 million dollars more. At the same time, the housing crisis has exploded, with Mainers unable to find affordable housing and being evicted at record rates. Parents who want to work can’t find or afford child care. Our people continue to die of overdoses across the state.

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Within this context, it no longer feels like careful stewardship to choose to save those millions of dollars instead of funding critical programs that could help alleviate the overwhelming need currently before us. It feels like we are at risk of sliding into a compulsive form of saving that is rooted in the disorienting reality that we can’t ever really be certain that we’ve secured our financial future. And that compulsion will demand that we continue to sacrifice our people as a result.

Our leaders have worked hard to get us onto the solid financial footing where we currently stand. The resulting gift of that is that we can prioritize addressing some of the needs we are facing.

With just $25 million of the $107 million Gov. Mills wants to add to the already full rainy day fund, we could create a rental assistance program that would help more Mainers find and stay in their homes. For $7 million we could improve the way we pay child care providers, making child care more affordable and helping prevent desperately needed centers from closing. With $10.8 million, we could raise the minimum wage to $15 per hour.

We could cover the Medicare gap that discriminates against immigrants with $13 million, help the direct service providers who care for our most vulnerable go to college with just $500,000, and still have millions left over to support raising the pay of teachers, school support staff and ed techs, and fund dozens of recovery centers for Mainers struggling with substance use disorder.

As a state, we have been blessed with leaders whose careful stewardship has protected our financial future. Now it’s time to embrace an equally critical virtue — compassionate care of one another.

Legislators and Gov. Mills, I urge you to take action at this critical time to help create a Maine where we can all thrive, now and in the future.

Rev. Dr. Jodi Cohen Hayashida of Auburn organizes the statewide movement “Multi-Faith Justice Maine” under the auspices of the Maine People’s Alliance.


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