AUGUSTA – Lawmakers gave final approval Tuesday to a supplemental budget that eliminates a $310 million shortfall by cutting spending and taking advantage of federal money, but not raising taxes.

With limited debate in the House and few comments in the Senate, the Legislature signed off on a document that took hundreds of hours to craft and was made necessary by falling state revenue and the national recession.

The House voted 110-35 to approve the emergency measure covering the next 15 months, with House Speaker Hannah Pingree, D-North Haven, handing over the gavel to have Rep. Sawin Millett of Waterford, the ranking Republican on the Appropriations Committee, preside over the vote.

Less than one hour later, the Senate voted 31-2 for the measure. Gov. John Baldacci today is expected to sign the bill to balance the state’s $5.7 billion, two-year budget.

The bill approved Tuesday — more than three months after hundreds of people protested proposed cuts to human services — was significantly different from the initial package put forward by Baldacci to close a $438 million shortfall.

Many of the reductions to human services and education were softened by additional federal money and increasing state revenue.

Unanimous support from the Appropriations Committee meant there was little disagreement between the parties on the final product.

“This is a balanced beginning to the work of picking up the economic pieces of the recession,” said House Majority Whip Seth Berry, D-Bowdoinham. “It’s a start to sweeping up the broken shards of our national economy.”

The budget cuts $23 million from the Department of Health and Human Services, $47 million from aid to public schools, $8 million from higher education and $16 million from cities and towns.

The Appropriations Committee rejected a proposal for three additional state shutdown days and restored longevity pay to state workers, which had been cut in Baldacci’s original supplemental budget.

The revised budget requires about $8 million to be put into the state’s rainy day fund by June 30, with an additional $2.5 million to be deposited a year later.

Millett said that although the committee “worked extraordinarily well together,” he’s worried about how much one-time money was used to balance the budget. That means more cuts for the next two-year cycle.

“They will leave us with a structural gap that will exceed $1 billion easily, in my view,” he said. “Yes, we do have a budget, but we do have difficult days ahead of us.”

In the House, Rep. Peter Johnson, R-Greenville, offered two amendments to school funding. Although both were defeated, they drew some support from lawmakers from other rural districts, who object to the way the state’s school district consolidation law has been implemented.

“The school consolidation law is a one-size-fits-all law that requires communities to do things against their own self-interest,” Johnson said.

He sought to remove penalties against certain districts for failure to comply, and to change the way the funding formula works for districts that are trying to consolidate.

Down the hall in the Senate, the bill passed unanimously without debate on initial votes, and with some debate before the final tally.

Sen. Richard Rosen, R-Bucksport, said discussions about the best way for state finances to move forward will have to continue.

“The impacts of this recession have been deep and they have been persistent,” he said.

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


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