April 19, 2012

Committee's budget success faces new test

Democrats say Republicans allowed LePage to break their last deal, so the next talks may be contentious.

By Susan M. Cover scover@mainetoday.com
State House Bureau

(Continued from page 1)

LePage said Wednesday that he's not optimistic the Legislature will make the kinds of changes he's seeking.

"Never say die," he said after a bill signing at the Blaine House. "But I don't know how confident I am. I just know one thing. If they don't, it's at the peril of the state of Maine. The state of Maine will suffer if they don't make some structural changes in this government."

LePage has argued that spending for General Assistance has grown significantly over the past few years, from $6.7 million in 2008 to $14.3 million projected for 2013.

Supporters of the program, which is described as a last resort that helps mostly with housing, say the state needs to continue to fund its share. The Maine Municipal Association worries that cuts will shift costs to cities and towns, and the shift will drive up property taxes.

Maine Equal Justice Partners said the growth in the program since 2008 is a result of the recession, not an out-of-control welfare system.

"The program is a program of last resort," said Sara Gagne-Holmes, executive director of Maine Equal Justice Partners. "The people who participate in the GA program are desperate to stay in their homes."

Rotundo and Rosen say they hope that Democrats and Republicans will continue to work together. Rosen said he's not sure how many changes will have to be made to the compromise already reached by lawmakers.

"I think the position that was negotiated regarding GA ... remains the position of the committee members and the Legislature at this point," he said. "I'm not sure I anticipate significant modifications to that."

Rotundo said Democrats will stay at the bargaining table to fight "dangerous and irresponsible" budget cuts -- the Drugs for the Elderly program is one -- proposed by LePage.

"We're concerned about protecting people who need that protection," she said.

State House Writer Susan Cover can be contacted at 620-7015 or at:



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