Thursday, April 24, 2014
AUGUSTA — The Legislature's budget committee continued to work late into the night Sunday on a $310 million plan to fill a gap in the state's $5.7 billion two-year budget.
What started out as a $438 million budget shortfall in December has changed significantly, thanks in part to additional federal funds and a more favorable revenue outlook.
The budget still cuts human services by an estimated $23 million, education by $48 million, and revenue sharing for cities and towns by $16 million. The rest of the budget includes a combination of smaller cuts in a variety of areas, a tax on hospitals and the addition of a new lottery game to bring in more revenue.
As negotiations entered their seventh hour Sunday, Sen. Richard Rosen, R-Bucksport, said the Appropriations Committee was "trying to figure out how to maneuver to a conclusion" on some final sticking points.
Those points included how much money to budget for a borrowing plan and whether to ease cuts to state employees, said committee Chairwoman Rep. Emily Cain, D-Orono.
As of 9 p.m., Cain was still hoping the committee would finish its work.
"Everything's still on the table, including the end time," she said. "It's a matter of getting momentum to finish tonight or coming back tomorrow to put a bow on it."
The committee had previously approved adding Megamillions -- which is similar to Powerball -- to the state's array of gambling options, which will generate about $1.5 million a year. It rejected the addition of keno terminals to bars and restaurants.
On Sunday, the committee discussed some of the finer details of the Department of Health and Human Services budget. The talks included changes to state regulations to reduce costs for nursing homes and a 4.5 percent cut to agencies that oversee home placements for adults with mental retardation.
Although many human services cuts have been reduced, one group that provides services for those with mental illness remains concerned.
Carol Carothers, executive director of the Maine chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, said her agency could still see a $100,000 cut.
"Mental health services have been cut over the last six years again and again," she said. "The restorations are wonderful, but you're restoring to a system that is so fragile and compromised."
Cuts are also proposed for residential services for those with substance abuse problems.
In an earlier round of voting, the committee altered a proposal from Gov. John Baldacci that would have required the state's four natural resource agencies to merge certain functions.
Lawmakers instead favor requiring the next governor to take action.
Lagging revenues and cuts to cities and towns mean Augusta and Waterville are each expected to receive $600,000 less in funding for fiscal year 2011. The a number grows to $2.2 million for Portland, according to the Maine Municipal Association.
The budget includes a one-time 0.12 percent assessment on net operating income of hospitals to generate $4.2 million.
Items that remained on the table late Sunday included whether to restore longevity pay for state workers, a controversial cut imposed last year. Also, the governor recommended the elimination of three additional unpaid days off for state workers, but the committee had yet to act on that late Sunday.
Once voted out of committee, the bill will move to the House, where votes could come later this week.
MaineToday Media State House Reporter Susan Cover can be contacted at 620-7015 or at: