Monday February 11, 2013 | 07:50 AM

Digging out, digging in  . . . 

Bubble politics: At some point on Monday the Legislature's budget writing committee hopes to vote out a $153 million plan designed to plug an equivalent sized shortfall in the state's two-year budget. Lawmakers had hoped to do that last Thursday, but were still negotiating deals on separate line items, each of which will determine the size of cuts and subsidies to key state programs.

Some of these decisions will have real impacts. Others -- specifically an approximately $5,000 subsidy to Maine's two operating charters schools -- not so much. 

Here's the story: Gov. Paul LePage originally exempted charters schools from his proposal to cut $12.58 million in state aid to public school districts. Democrats on the Education Committee later amended the budget plan to include charter schools in the reductions.

Democrats' argument is essentially that if public schools are going to get whacked, so should charter schools. The savings, however, will have minimum benefit to public schools because it's so puny.

Republicans have cried foul -- that's LePage's Education Commissioner Steve Bowen's description -- saying that the money is so insignificant that the Democrats' decision to include charters is tribute to the Maine Education Association, the state teachers union. Republicans say the union wants charter schools to fail. They also don't much care for the teachers union, which spent a lot of money during an election to sack a number of Republicans, who lost their legislative majority in 2012.  

The fight between the two sides is relatively subdued in the public sphere, but Republicans are saying that they won't vote for the budget if the charter school cut is included. Ditto LePage, whose signature is needed unless enough Republicans cross over to join Democrats for a veto-proof majority.

Democrats continue to say it's only fair that the cut is included. 

The $5,000 subsidy represents .000032 of the $158 million budget. Split equally with the state's two operating charter schools, the subsidy represents .0007 of the $3.4 million operating budget for the Good Will-Hinckley Academy of Natural Sciences (which supports the charter cut). It means a bit more to the Cornville Regional Charter School's approximately $500,000 budget, . 005, or one half of 1 percent. 

In other words, this battle is little more than a highly politicized rounding error of little consequence to anyone other than the people making decisions in Augusta.  

Budget poll: The Maine Peoples Resource Center is expected to release a poll on the budget on Wednesday, according to Mike Tipping.

Tipping is also the communications director for the liberal activist group the Maine Peoples Alliance, so expect some conservative skeptics to question the poll results, especially if the survey shows support for raising taxes as a budget solution.

It's also worth a reminder that the Maine Peoples Alliance warned that Democratic lawmakers could face a primary challenge if they vote for a two-year budget that doesn't repeal or suspend the tax cut on high earners.  

Weekend reading: There will be a lot of debates over gun control this session and a resurrection of the debate regarding the so-called "gun show loophole." Anyone with an interest in this issue would do well to read colleague Kevin Miller's Maine Sunday Telegram story about the state's hearty and largely unregulated marketplace.

Puppy dogs and ice cream: Wayne LaPierre, head of the National Rifle Association, has taken a lot of heat for his comments following the mass shooting in Newtown, Conn. (The covers for the New York Post and New York Daily News were instant clasics). 

The Associated Press offers a more nuanced portrait. Apparently LaPierre prefers to read a book over firing a gun. Also, watch out Giffords, he dreams of opening an ice cream parlor in Maine

Non-political item: 

“One tide went right through the surf side” of a home, said Salisbury Police Detective Steve Sforza. “They said the ocean was inside their house, and they were right.” Four adults and two cats were taken out. -- The Boston Globe 2.11.13



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Steve Mistler covers politics and government for the Portland Press Herald. He spends a lot of time in the hallways of the State House.

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