Budget speech, gala highlight inauguration

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AUGUSTA – Dignitaries from more than a dozen countries will join 1,500 guests tonight at Gov. John Baldacci’s second inauguration, which highlights a range of activities from the ceremonial to serious this week in Maine’s capital.

With his teenage son Jack holding the family Bible, Baldacci will take the oath of office in the first of two days of inaugural activities at the Augusta Civic Center.

Maine’s judiciary and Legislature will join the 1,500 people who have responded to invitations and said they will attend. The public event is funded by private donors and has a budget in the $250,000-$300,000 range.

Baldacci said Tuesday that tax relief and economic development will be “the twin pillars of this address,” and that he will also discuss a need “to change the way we’ve been doing business in a significant way.”

The governor said his address will also touch on recommendations of a recent Brookings Institution report, which calls for a leaner state government and investments in the state’s economy. Baldacci has appointed an advisory panel to advance recommendations based on the report.

The Democratic governor said he will also try to “raise hopes and dreams and aspirations” of Mainers in his 7 p.m. address, which will be televised statewide.

The inauguration begins with pomp and circumstance in the State House, where the House of Representatives and Senate will gather for a joint convention. After the two chambers reconvene in the civic center, Senate President Beth Edmonds, D-Freeport, will administer the oath to Baldacci.

In addition to Maine’s top elected and appointed officials, representatives from 13 other countries plan to attend the inaugural, said Jan Messerschmidt, spokesman for the Maine Gubernatorial Inaugural Committee.

When the convention opens, the national anthem will be sung in English and French. Also adding diverse flavor to the event will be music from the multicultural Pihcintu Children’s Chorus of Maine. The Portland-based chorus includes 38 children ages 9-14.

On Thursday, 1,500 invited guests are expected at the black-tie optional inaugural gala, also at the civic center. Three bands are lined up to play at the event, whose theme is a celebration of Maine, said Messerschmidt.

Celebrants will feast on 100 pounds of cheese from all over the state, smoked seafoods and meats, and local and imported beers.

The atmosphere turns more businesslike on Friday, when Baldacci presents details of his state budget for the two years starting July 1. Baldacci has said he will maintain a do-without-stance on broad-based tax hikes.

As part of his budget package, Baldacci will detail new steps to streamline state government, according to administration finance chief Rebecca Wyke. Baldacci also has already detailed a major new spending priority.

In an agreement with the Maine Hospital Association, the state would raise hospitals’ weekly payments by including $82 million in state funds for hospitals in state fiscal years 2008 and 2009 – producing $221 million in combined state and federal funding, the joint statement said.

During those same two years, the state would include $20 million to pay for 2004 hospital settlements. That would produce a total of $54 million in state and federal money, according to the Baldacci administration and the hospital association.

The governor and his top budget advisers plan a news conference to outline the spending plan Friday morning and a statewide address that evening.

The week’s events started on a somber note this afternoon as Baldacci led a brief remembrance ceremony for former President Gerald Ford.

AP-ES-01-02-07 1605EST

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