March 16, 2010

Baldacci pick wins bipartisan backing

FRANCIS X

— By . QUINN

The Associated Press

AUGUSTA — Gov. John Baldacci's choice to take over Maine's sprawling state Department of Administrative and Financial Services won bipartisan backing Wednesday at a legislative confirmation hearing.

The Legislature's Appropriations Committee endorsed Ryan Low by a vote of 11-0.

Two Republican lawmakers including House Minority Leader Josh Tardy joined with other speakers to express support for Low, a former department executive who currently is Baldacci's deputy chief of staff.

Also urging the Appropriations Committee to recommend Low's confirmation was Rebecca Wyke, who heads the administrative and financial services department now, state Attorney General Steven Rowe and Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap.

Wyke is leaving for a top management job with the University of Maine System.

The committee endorsement virtually ensures Senate confirmation Aug. 20. It would take a two-thirds Senate majority to go against the panel's recommendation.

Formally presenting Low to the Appropriations Committee on Wednesday, Baldacci Chief of Staff Jane Lincoln characterized Low as one with ''good humor, an open mind and an ability to find answers where others see questions.''

One appropriations panelist, Republican Rep. Patrick Flood of Winthrop, stepped down temporarily from his place on the committee platform to add his voice to those of other Low backers.

''He doesn't beat around the bush,'' Flood said. ''He gets to the point, he is respectful and straightforward.''

Low, who served previously as state budget officer, associate commissioner in the Department of Administrative and Financial Services and as a top legislative aide, is a graduate of the University of Maine Farmington with a B.A. in political science.

If confirmed, he would head a department with responsibilities that include budgeting and financial management, human resources, information technology services, facilities and fleet management, public improvements, procurement, self-insurance and other administrative services.

The department umbrella extends to the state tax agency, state lottery and Maine's wholesale liquor business.

Low told the Appropriations Committee on Wednesday that while the state had been able to keep the average General Fund growth rate since 2004 close to 3 percent annually, more difficult decisions lie ahead.

''Unfortunately, we will face serious challenges in the upcoming budget cycle,'' he said. ''Costs are up and available revenues are nearly flat as Maine struggles as part of a sagging national economy.''

With anticipation of a special legislative session waning in most quarters, the Appropriations panel is scheduled to reconvene next week for a regular off-session update.

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