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Good day.

On Monday, we received confirmation for something we already knew was true – all the hard work and tough budget decisions we have made during the past four years are beginning to pay dividends.

Standard and Poor’s, one of the premier financial rating companies in the world, raised Maine’s credit score.

Just like an individual, states are judged on how credit worthy they are. And just like a person, everything from income to debt are part of the calculation.

We’ve moved up, and that’s great news.

In its report, they specifically pointed to things that we’re doing right in Maine.

Our economic and financial position are improving.

We have controlled budget growth.

We have made great progress in rebuilding the state’s reserves.

And our state debt is low, and we pay it back quicker than most other states.

The analyst responsible for giving Maine it’s grade summed it up nicely:

“We expect that the state’s prudent financial and debt management practices will continue to lead to positive financial operations and a long-term structural budget balance.”

Now it might not sound too exciting, but let me assure you it is.

Terms like “prudent management,” and “positive financial operations” don’t fit neatly into newspaper headlines or 30-second sound bites.

But it’s music to my ears and it should be to yours.

And the song they sing tells Mainers that we are moving in the right direction. All of the tough decisions that we’ve made in my first four years are beginning to work.

Four years ago, when I was first elected Governor, Maine faced a $1.2 billion budget gap.

Our reserves were sitting on empty.

Every year since then, I’ve balanced the budget, the gap has gotten smaller.

And we’ve built up our reserves to more than $150 million from zero.

Big change doesn’t happen overnight, but it can happen and it has.

The new budget submitted for the next go-round will be about a tenth of where we were when I started back in 2003.

And we did it while we added $700 new million dollars to fund K-12 education to the level that the people voted for, to 55 percent.

It wasn’t easy. But it was the right thing to do for the state.

To continue Maine on the path to economic success, we must continue to make “prudent” and “long-term” budget decisions.

Right now, the Legislature continues to wrestle with how to balance the state’s budget for the next two years. I’ve given them a plan that protects the values that Mainers hold dear while providing real reform in the administration of education and human services, that account for 80 percent of our budget.

Maine’s constitution requires the Legislature to pass a balanced budget, but there’s always a temptation to look for the easiest path.

My budget doesn’t rely on one-time money, smoke and mirrors or tricks with numbers. It does add some new revenue by increasing the cigarette tax, but it couples it with administrative cuts to come up with the money necessary to fund education to 55 percent and also requires guaranteed property tax relief for that money going into education from the state side.

But just as important as what my budget does for the next two years, it also institutes reforms that we want to carry forward into the future budget.

We’ve got to change the way we’re doing business.

The structures that served us well for 50 years aren’t working, and they are tying our hands – keeping us from taking full advantage of the opportunities in this 21st Century global economy.

We’ll take our medicine today; and we’re going to make the reforms we all know that we have to make.

And, at the end of the day, when the final tally is taken, Maine’s economy will be healthier and the prospects for our people will be brighter.

If you’ve ever struggled to pay your bills, you know it’s a lot easier to get into trouble than it is to get out.

There’s no magic wand or silver bullet. Progress comes at the end of a day of hard work.

That’s where we are here in Maine. We stand firm, put our shoulders against the grindstone and we push.

And when it comes to this year’s budget, I’m doing the same thing. Planting my feet, putting my shoulder to the wheel and pushing.

And I’m not going to accept anything less than real progress.

I’m going to need your help.

Prosperity is in sight. All that stands in the way is making the right choices – reforming schools, streamlining government, improving human services, and cutting out the budget tricks. Call your legislator and let them know we need to move Maine forward.

Together we can get there from here. Thank you very much.

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