AUGUSTA — The co-chairs of the legislative panel that reviews the proposed state budget are taking an approach they believe will add “a lot more transparency” to state spending.

State Sen. Cathy Breen, D-Falmouth, and Rep. Drew Gattine, D-Westbrook, co-chairs of the Joint Standing Committee on Appropriations and Financial Affairs, are holding office hours to meet with the public about budget priorities before the governor submits her biennial spending proposal next month. 

“We have some time as we wait for the governor to present her budget. We have some time now to just hear from people all over the state about their priorities,” Breen said. She represents Senate District 25, which includes Gray, Cumberland, Falmouth, Yarmouth, Long Island, Chebeague Island and part of Westbrook.

Gattine, who represents the southern side of Westbrook in House District 34, said the public office hours will “help us get prepared and ready.”

“I think it is a great idea and something not done before,” said Gattine, who is in his second year co-chairing the committee. Breen, a committee member last year, and is in her first year as co-chairwoman.

Gattine said he expects to hear concerns about health care, property taxes, revenue sharing and school funding.

Breen said because she represents two island communities and several with ocean access, a big concern in her district is “climate change and changes around Casco Bay that already have negatively impacted fishing and key Maine industries.”

Among her priorities, she said, are workforce development issues. Gattine said he sees the need for better mental health services for adults and children, as well as services to address the opioid crisis.

“We haven’t had the opportunity to do as much as we would like to,” he said of the response to state’s problems with opioids. “I am happy to see the new governor say it is a priority for her.”

Both lawmakers said they hope their office hours are the start of a more transparent budget process. 

“Without looking back too much, we as a Legislature have had a hard time working with the previous administration regarding how money was being spent,” Breen said. “There wasn’t a lot of transparency. Within this administration, that will be different. There will be a lot more transparency.”

Gattine said he hopes this budget cycle will involve a more “open dialogue, in public, between the Legislature and administration.”

Once Mills unveils her budget – the deadline to do so is Feb. 8 – the Appropriations and Fiscal Affairs committee will hold public hearings throughout February and March. Breen said those hearings may roll into April, which was the case in 2011 when Gov. Paul LePage, then just starting his first term, presented his first biennial budget.

The budget must be in place by July 1, the start of fiscal year 2020.

How the committee moves forward with their recommendations, Gattine said, will depend on what comes out of the conversations with the public, along with the priorities of the governor and other legislative committees.

Remaining appointments of up to 30 minutes with Gattine and Breen in Augusta are available Wednesday, Jan. 23, from 8:30-11:30 a.m.; Monday, Jan. 28, from 1-4 p.m., and Wednesday, Jan. 30, from 8:30-11:30 a.m. Contact Patrick Rankin, at 287-1532 or [email protected], to make an appointment.

The sessions are filling up quickly, Breen said last week.

Michael Kelley can be reached at 780-9106 or [email protected] or on Twitter @mkelleynews.

State Sen. Cathy Breen, D-Falmouth, left, and Rep. Drew Gattine, D-Westbrook, are co-chairs of the Legislature’s Joint Standing Committee on Appropriations and Financial Affairs.

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