March 4, 2010

Baldacci revisions ease pain from cuts

Human services, education and municipal aid won’t be reduced as much as in earlier proposals.

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

AUGUSTA — Gov. John Baldacci proposed to reduce some of the deepest cuts in the state budget Wednesday by providing additional money to support human services and education.

A revised forecast that projects $51 million more in state revenue this fiscal year and next, and additional federal money, combined to give the governor and the Legislature $78.7 million worth of breathing room.

“Despite today’s good news, we know that our economy is fragile and recovery is far from certain,” Baldacci said during a news conference in his office. He continued to characterize state spending as frugal, saying the current two-year budget will be $5.6 billion – a modest increase from his first budget, seven years ago, which was $5.4 billion.

Even with the increased revenue, state lawmakers face a $360 million shortfall.

Baldacci’s proposal attempts to address some of the biggest concerns expressed by hundreds of people who testified against cuts to schools, human services, and cities and towns. Many called for a tax increase rather than cuts, but Baldacci held firm Wednesday to his opposition to raising taxes.

“During this difficult economy, I will not support higher taxes,” he said. “Maine families and businesses cannot afford a greater burden.”

In human services, the original proposal called for 10 percent cuts in a number of categories to save $32.5 million. In the new proposal, many of the 10 percent cuts have been reduced or eliminated. The cuts now would save $6.4 million, said Brenda Harvey, commissioner of the Department of Health and Human Services.

The proposal also calls for changes in DHHS, including the elimination of 22 positions at the Dorothea Dix Psychiatric Center in Bangor.

Of those, 17 are vacant and five are part of a state hiring freeze.

In education, the governor originally proposed cutting $36 million for the year that starts July 1. The new proposal reduces that to $16 million, said Education Commissioner Susan Gendron.

Baldacci’s proposed changes to the state budget include $2.6 million for debt payments on a proposed $79 million “job creation” bond package. Democrats proposed a $99 million package Tuesday. Baldacci said he will release the details of his proposal next week.

Other budget changes proposed Wednesday by Baldacci include:

$37 million more for nursing homes, assisted-living facilities, disability services, mental health crisis intervention and home-based services.

$20 million more for K-12 education.

$8 million more for higher education.

$6 million more for cities and towns.

$3.5 million more for retirees’ health.

$1.75 million to fund the state’s portion of disaster assistance.

$8 million more to restore state workers’ longevity pay and eliminate three state shutdown days. Baldacci originally proposed a payroll push to the next fiscal year to pay for that, but would now fund it with the additional revenue.
Bill Diamond, D-Windham, Senate chairman of the Legislature’s Appropriations Committee, said most of Baldacci’s proposals are likely to be adopted by the committee.

He said lawmakers will keep looking for more ways to mitigate the cuts to human services. “There are still deep cuts in some areas,” he said. “We’ll focus on HHS now and hopefully we’ll be able to do more.”

MaineToday Media State House Reporter Susan Cover can be contacted at 620-7015 or at:

scover@centralmaine.com

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