AUGUSTA — Gov. Paul LePage said Thursday he will order more than $35 million in cutbacks to state programs as soon as possible, and took the first step by ordering his department heads to look for places to scale back services.
The cuts, which a spokeswoman said will not touch essential services, will affect programs during the current fiscal year that ends June 30, 2013.
"I will be exercising my authority to reduce spending in the quickest manner possible. My commissioners and I are evaluating our options and we will put in place a plan that is practicable and follows the law," LePage, a Republican, said in a statement.
Spokeswoman Adrienne Bennett said the order and its details will likely be issued next week, and while cuts will not be across-the-board, "there will be shared sacrifice." The order will not affect services such as police and snow plowing and "we will not allow Mainers to be adversely affected by these cuts."
The reductions must be ordered to ensure the state finishes the fiscal year with a balanced budget, as required by the state Constitution. But even after the cutbacks are made, serious fiscal challenges will confront the governor and Legislature as they put together a budget for the next two-year cycle in the months ahead.
A recalculation of anticipated state revenues by economic experts for the coming 2014-15 biennium has also reduced expected income by $125 million. The two-year budget is expected to total roughly $6 billion. In addition, about $20 million less is expected in the highway budget for roads and bridges, which is separate.
The slowness of recovery from the recession and continuing economic malaise are blamed for the sagging revenues. Meanwhile, officials say the congressional response to the so-called fiscal cliff — the prospect of income tax increases for all and deep cuts in defense and other programs — could have even more profound effects on the state budget.
Curtailment orders are nothing new in Maine. The previous governor, Democrat John Baldacci, ordered curtailments in 2008, 2009 and 2010 as the recession took root and flared up. Cuts totaled more than $160 million over that time.
LePage's curtailment order does not require legislative review or approval, the Democratic legislative leaders pointed out. But lawmakers will have to examine the cuts because they will likely become part of a budget rewrite that accounts for the falling revenue, they said.
"We will be taking a strategic and measured approach to address the shortfall once we reconvene in January," Senate President Justin Alfond, D-Portland, said in a statement.
The Democratic-led 126th Legislature was seated on Wednesday.