PORTLAND — As a committee chair in Augusta, I make decisions about how to balance the needs of the agencies charged with the well-being and security of Maine people with how much it costs.

Just like the vast majority of state government, the Departments of Public Safety, Corrections and Emergency Management are doing far more than ever before, with much less funding.

In 2010, the Maine Legislature successfully cut $310 million to address losses in state revenues and another $534 million in 2009.

Cutting more than $800 million required very difficult decisions to streamline government and improve efficiencies without crippling critical services. We’ve eliminated more than 1,000 state positions, required unpaid shut-down days and pushed part of the cost of health insurance to state employees.

This was all in an effort to save money to preserve what people say is most important to them.

These provisions have cut spending by nearly $33.8 million over the biennium.

We worked to combine state agencies, departments and school administrations. Our county and state corrections facilities have found ways to share resources to further the cost savings and even stemming the anticipated growth of costs to local property taxpayers.

Many of these cuts have had real and profound effects on the way Maine does business and serves and protects its population.

For the departments my committee oversees, it meant corrections employees taking on more hours and responsibility with the loss of 33 positions, the fire marshal traveling greater distances to inspect structures and investigate fires and many more changes in the way we operate.

This is possible because a great team of professionals made sure it could be done and that their employees would rise to the challenge.

The misguided perception that the state budget is still bloated, or that legislators are incapable of fiscal responsibility ignores the very real and very painful cuts we’ve made during this Legislature alone.

Balancing the budget was a bipartisan effort, with legislators from all walks of life and areas of expertise crafting the final product.

The process for building a balanced budget takes a great deal of time and effort from all 186 elected legislators.

Each committee oversees a certain segment of the budget and looks carefully at the departments and agencies it manages.

Committee members must come to a bipartisan consensus before bringing their recommendations to the Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee.

There, the detailed work of pulling all of the pieces together takes place.

While significant efficiencies were found last session and in previous years, many state programs and services have been cut to the bone, leaving them inadequately prepared to handle the influx of demand the recession has thrust upon them.

With no fat left to cut, this Legislature was left with the most difficult of choices.

Nationwide, the choice almost every state has made is to raise some kind of tax, many broad- based taxes, to make up for their huge shortfalls.

Ten states – including New Hampshire, Massachusetts and Florida – have raised taxes by more than 5 percent.

We did not do that here in Maine. We chose the difficult option of holding every position and program up to the light — checking it for maximum efficiency and output.

While we made those hard decisions, we also looked to preserve the most necessary of programs that are the key framework for our social safety net.

Clearly, cutting things like funding to prevent domestic violence, natural disaster planning and correctional services will cost everyone more in the long run.

The process the Maine Legislature goes through to draft the state budget is working.

We are positioning our state to come out of this recession with most of our economic framework intact. We will be prepared for the future.

 

– Special to The Press Herald