April 7, 2012

Committee rejects plan to eliminate all state funding for MPBN

The appropriations panel restores the entire $1.7 million that Gov. Paul LePage wanted to cut.

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

AUGUSTA — The Legislature's Appropriations Committee has rejected a proposal by Gov. Paul LePage to eliminate all state funding for the Maine Public Broadcasting Network.

During negotiations late Thursday, the committee voted to restore all $1.7 million that LePage proposed cutting from MPBN in his supplemental budget to take the state through June 2013.

It was the second time in less than a year that lawmakers had rejected a request by LePage to pull all state funding from MPBN.

"Why should I pay welfare to a company?" the governor said last month during a town hall meeting in Oxford County. "It's that simple. I need that money to pay welfare. I need the (money) to make sure some elderly don't freeze."

The state provides the network with 17.4 percent of its $11.2 million annual operating budget. Most of the network's funding -- 64 percent -- comes from members' contributions, according to the network.

Language approved by the committee Thursday changed the state funding mechanism, to fee for service rather than a state appropriation.

Lawmakers continue working on the supplemental budget proposed by LePage to balance the state's $6 billion, two-year budget. Much of the major work will be put off until May, when lawmakers expect to have a better set of revenue estimates and more complete budget numbers from the Department of Health and Human Services.

Earlier this week, Administrative and Financial Services Commissioner Sawin Millett told lawmakers that revenue estimates were off by more than $14 million because of an accounting error by Maine Revenue Services. January receipts were actually $14 million more than originally reported.

As a result, revenue forecasters will come back in the coming weeks to re-project state revenue for 2012-13 and the following two-year period.

On Friday, the Appropriations Committee considered the details of cuts proposed to General Assistance. After several hours of negotiations, the committee's House chairman, Rep. Patrick Flood, R-Winthrop, announced just before 5 p.m. that it was done with its work until Monday.

In his General Assistance plan, LePage originally proposed limiting housing assistance to 90 days per calendar year, to save $3.3 million. That change would most dramatically affect Portland, South Portland, Bangor, Lewiston and Waterville, according to the DHHS, because the cities could have to compensate for the cut.

Also, LePage proposed giving all cities and towns a 50 percent reimbursement rate for General Assistance. The state's bigger communities now can qualify for 90 percent reimbursement after they spend a set amount of money.

The change would affect Portland, Bangor, Lewiston and Caribou, and save $1.4 million.

LePage also proposed eliminating General Assistance for anyone who receives federal Temporary Assistance to Needy Families funds, to save $978,666.

A coalition of mayors formed to oppose the cuts to General Assistance, and dozens of people testified before the committee about the effects of the cuts.

State House Writer Susan Cover can be contacted at 620-7015 or at: scover@mainetoday.com

 

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