January 5, 2013

LePage's $35.5 million cuts hit nearly every agency

Public schools and DHHS will take the brunt since they account for most of the two-year budget.

By Noel K. Gallagher ngallagher@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

AUGUSTA – The state's finance commissioner briefed the Legislature's Appropriations Committee on Friday on $35.5 million in spending cuts ordered by Gov. Paul LePage to balance the state budget, and promised to provide more details about the cuts' impact next week.

"These are not just low-hanging fruit changes," Sawin Millett told the committee, which met for the first time Friday, four days before lawmakers are scheduled to return to the State House for the 2013 session.

Most of the cuts in LePage's order are to the Department of Health and Human Services -- $13.4 million -- and the Department of Education -- $12.6 million. Other big cuts are to the University of Maine System -- $2.5 million -- and the Department of Corrections -- $2 million.

The cuts, proposed to offset a revenue shortfall projected for the fiscal year that ends June 30, hit nearly every state agency. Public schools and human services will take the brunt of it largely because they account for roughly 70 percent of the state's two-year budget.

The reductions will also be in a supplemental budget that LePage will propose to the Legislature on Jan. 11. That will challenge the Democratic majority, which will have to propose different cuts if it doesn't accept LePage's.

"We face many difficult decisions," said Rep. Peggy Rotundo, D-Lewiston, the Appropriations Committee's House chair.

The committee had only a handful of questions for Millett, nearly all about the specific impact of the cuts. Among the questions that went unanswered:

How many state job vacancies are being left unfilled because of the cuts?

What are specific examples of how individual school districts are making cuts?

One cut reduces the daily reimbursement rate for about 800 adoptive parents. What is the new rate?

Will a cut in funding for legal services for indigent Mainers affect access to legal representation, or reimbursement for attorneys?

Millett emphasized that under the cuts, no program could be eliminated and the spending reductions would be temporary.

As for specifics, he said he would ask some department heads to come speak to the committee next week.

In addition to the $2.5 million in cuts to the UMaine system, the Maine Community College System must cut $724,450 and Maine Maritime Academy must cut $113,000.

"All of them were clear that these targets were not easy," Millett said of the higher education institutions. "I would not want to characterize any of them as happy."

Dawn Hill, D-York, the committee's Senate chair, asked that representatives of the three institutions appear before the committee next week.

"I think it would be very good if we hear from those three entities," she said. "(The cuts) are inconsistent with what we really need to do to educate Mainers."

Millett agreed, adding, "I think they're realistic and understand this is a shared sacrifice."

Among the DHHS reductions is $1.2 million in cuts to the Bureau of Children with Special Needs, $360,000 to the Office of Substance Abuse and $1.4 million to foster care and adoption assistance.

Staff Writer Noel Gallagher can be contacted at 791-6387 or at:

ngallagher@pressherald.com

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