January 3, 2013

Panel to meet on governor's spending cuts

Democrats want the committee to get started on Gov. Paul LePage's curtailment order.

By GLENN ADAMS The Associated Press

AUGUSTA - Four days before the House and Senate are scheduled to return to the State House for the 2013 session, the Appropriations Committee will meet Friday to address Gov. Paul LePage's order to cut $35.5 million in spending.

click image to enlarge

State finance commissioner Sawin Millett, shown with Gov. Paul LePage's spokeswoman Adrienne Bennett, at a December news conference, is expected to present details of the governor's proposed budget cuts at a meeting of the Appropriations Committee on Friday.

File photo/Staff Writer Steve Mistler

Democratic leaders in the Legislature want the committee to get an early start on its review of the curtailment order signed a week ago by LePage. The Republican governor said it's needed to balance the state budget for year ending June 30.

Under the order, the Department of Health and Human Services stands to take the biggest hit, $13.4 million. The Department of Education will see a $12.6 million reduction in General Purpose Aid for schools.

The state's finance commissioner, Sawin Millett, is expected to present the committee with details of those and other planned cuts. Among the DHHS cuts in a curtailment document prepared by the administration is about $314,000 to the Office for Family Independence, which provides services such as child support, family emergency assistance and welfare.

It also includes $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.

Health and Human Services Commissioner Mary Mayhew has already told lawmakers that she projects expenses for her department could outstrip available funds by $100 million as program participants request more services.

Democrats said they will have plenty of questions as the specifics come out.

"We will be reviewing the curtailment in detail, asking questions about the impact of the cuts on education, public health, mental health and adoption services," said Jodi Quintero, spokeswoman for House Speaker Mark Eves, D-North Berwick.

The Republicans issued a statement calling curtailment "a necessary and decisive move by the governor to bring the budget into balance until the Legislature can craft a supplemental budget that makes more targeted cuts to state spending through the remainder of the fiscal year."

House Minority Leader Ken Fredette, R-Newport, said there's no doubt that the cuts would be painful, but he expressed confidence that the Appropriations Committee "will deal with these tough choices in a bipartisan and responsible way."

The state's fiscal challenges do not end with the current fiscal year. Forecasters' figures show revenues lagging estimates by $128 million for the two-year budget that begins July 1, meaning less money would be available to pay for services.


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