Members of Maine’s Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee have done it again. They have, and unanimously so, repaired a gaping hole in the state’s budget by passing a $153 million supplemental budget package.
On Wednesday, just after the committee passed the budget, Sen. President Justin Alfond, D-Portland, issued a statement thankful “for the committee’s tireless work to find solutions.”
And, soon after Alfond’s statement, the Maine House Republicans also issued a statement praising the committee’s bipartisan effort.
“It says a lot that both parties and both branches were able to agree on a budget proposal in just a month or so,” said Rep. Kathy Chase, R-Wells, the House Republican lead on Appropriations.
It’s interesting to note that, after more than a week of Democrats pushing to trim a fractional $5,000 in funding for charter schools, that cut was not made, preserving Gov. Paul LePage’s interest in supporting school choice. Call it an ideological win for Republicans (infuriating the Maine Education Association).
And, $1.75 million in cuts proposed by LePage to Maine’s Drugs for the Elderly program and additional cuts to the state’s Meals on Wheels program were restored. Call that a financial win for the Democrats (and the elderly).
What Appropriations does, in the strictest sense, is referee a political tug of war before grabbing hold of the rope and striking a balance. Except that, in the end, each political side will win some points and lose others. That’s what compromise is all about, and this committee is very good at it.
We saw that in February last year, when Republicans controlled Appropriations, and the committee patched — unanimously — a $120 million gap in the Department of Health and Human Services budget.
Bringing a unanimous vote out of committee and to the full Legislature for approval is a powerful gesture of unity in the state's financial matters.
Of course, that balance is not achieved without real disagreement, but the end result is that this committee — no matter the politics or the administration — gets the job done.
Let’s give the current members credit for their patience and proficiency:
Co-chairwoman Sen. Dawn Hill, D-York
Co-chairwoman Rep. Margaret Rotundo, D-Lewiston
Sen. Emily Cain, D-Penobscot
Sen. Patrick Flood, R-Kennebec
Rep. Michael Carey, D-Lewiston
Rep. Linda Sanborn, D-Gorham
Rep. Megan Rochelo, D-Biddeford
Rep. Aaron Frey, D-Bangor
Rep. Erik Jorgensen, D-Portland
Rep. Kathleen Chase, R-Wells
Rep. Tom J. Winsor, R-Norway
Rep. Tyler Clark, R-Easton
Rep. Dennis Keschl, R-Belgrade
(And, as anyone who has seen Appropriations in action knows, extra credit goes to Committee Clerk Holly Mullen and Policy Analyst Maureen Dawson for their respective efforts in keeping the machine running.)
For those who are counting, that’s eight Ds and five Rs.
But, despite all the partisan bickering and political posturing that goes on at the State House before the final vote, this is a committee that takes its responsibility to represent all Mainers seriously.
Wednesday’s action closed the $153 million budget gap in the state’s existing budget, but members of Appropriations will barely have time to rest before tackling the governor's $6.3 billion budget for the new biennium. So, there is no doubt the bickering and posturing at the Capitol will be revived and energized as soon as those negotiations begin.
But, in the meantime, there’s a light shining in that swirl of extremism.
It’s called Appropriations.
The opinions expressed in this column reflect the views of the ownership and the editorial board.