AUGUSTA — Democrats on the Appropriations Committee reacted coolly Wednesday to a $34 million package of cuts presented by Republican Gov. Paul LePage’s administration, calling it a rehash of numerous initiatives that have been tried and rejected.
Rep. Michael Carey, D-Lewiston, a member of the Appropriations Committee, said during the presentation that the LePage administration was using the opportunity to strong-arm the Democrat-led Legislature into accepting cuts it previously rejected.
“The piece that’s hard for me with this is looking at it from the 5,000-foot level,” said Carey during a discussion on a proposed $9.6 million cut to state support of public education. “As I read this report, it feels like we are being asked to rehash what was a very difficult biennial budget because the administration didn’t like how this committee restored some money to [general purpose aid for education]. How is this not rehashing the biennial budget?”
Richard Rosen, director of the Office of Policy and Management, which was created in 2012 at LePage’s urging, said he drew from numerous sources and relied heavily on state departments to help him come up with the proposed cuts, which are necessary to keep the biennial budget in balance.
“It’s certainly not intended as a rehash,” said Rosen, who served as Senate chairman of the Appropriations Committee when Republicans held legislative majorities in 2011 and 2012. “I suppose any one of these affected entities could view this as a rehash of the biennial budget. Every department and agency in state government is impacted by these recommendations.”
The package of cuts includes $11.3 million in this fiscal year, which LePage can implement on his own through executive orders, and $24 million next year, which would require a combination of actions by LePage and the Legislature.
Among other things, Rosen recommends cuts to public schools and universities, curtailed funding for the prison system, a rollback of the state’s support for municipal general assistance programs and numerous cuts within the Department of Health and Human Services.
Some of the savings recommended by Rosen would result from the elimination of 97 state government jobs, only about a dozen of which are now filled.
Adrienne Bennett, a spokeswoman for LePage, said Rosen and the governor were forced into proposing these cuts because the Legislature left the nearly $34 million budget gap for Rosen’s office to fill.
“Mainers need to understand that these cuts were a directive of the Legislature,” said Bennett. “The governor did propose a balanced budget. The Appropriations Committee could have identified savings. Instead, legislators shifted the responsibility and tough decision-making to the Office of Policy and Management. They cannot simply lay all the blame on the LePage administration when they ran away from making the tough decisions in the first place.”
However, Part F of the governor’s original budget proposal called for the Office of Policy and Management to identify $10 million in savings in fiscal year 2014 — which could be accomplished by executive orders — and $20 million in 2015. LePage’s budget also directed Rosen’s office to identify 100 positions for elimination in Part G.
Rep. Peggy Rotundo, D-Lewiston, co-chairman of the Appropriations Committee, criticized the proposed cuts in a prepared statement.
“This proposal is a greatest hits list of rehashed ideas that have been rejected by both parties; it’s hard to believe this is a serious proposal,” she said. “Now it is our job to find proposals that work.”