Lawmakers face painful program cuts

AUGUSTA — State lawmakers said Thursday that they will likely be faced with eliminating whole programs or agencies to fill a $30 million hole in the current budget.

Retiring state comptroller Edward Karass told the Appropriations Committee further reorganizations
would not be the answer to the budget challenges.

"You're
going to have to make some cuts," he said. "It's not an easy thing to do and it's going to cause a
lot of pain. You have to be futurists and visionaries and you have to
look at it as leaving the state better off."

The committee is charged with finding structural savings — permanent cuts rather than one-time fixes — in the $5.8 billion, two-year budget. Lawmakers likely will have to make tens of millions in additional cuts next year, as monthly revenue collections continue to come in under projections.

"We've looked at everything and it's just scraped to the bone," said Sen. Margaret Craven, D-Lewiston, a member of the committee. "We're going to have to eliminate entire programs or agencies."

At the end of the second day of budget briefings, committee chairs Sen. Bill Diamond, D-Windham, and Rep. Emily Cain, D-Orono, told colleagues they were expected to go over a list of state programs not federally mandated or legally required and decide which they would be willing to cut.

"We can easily screen out those programs, like debt service and retirement payments, that we have no intention of touching," said Rep. Sawin Millett, R-Waterford, the committee's top House Republican.

Millett said the committee plans to reconvene on Sept. 2, so members from each party can see which programs each is willing to consider cutting.

"The goal is getting us from the balcony down to the ball field," Millett said.

The committee is also scheduled to meet Sept. 23 and 24, when the actual details for significant policy changes are expected to be reviewed, Cain said.

Rep. Peggy Rotundo, D-Lewiston, who also serves on the budget-writing committee, said the eventual cuts would affect many Mainers.

"We've nickle and dimed these programs almost to death and that's why everyone is saying we can't continue down that path because there's nothing left; at some point you have to say, we have to cut programs that we can't afford anymore," she said, adding that about half of the overall budget consists of education funding and another third funds health and human services programs.

"As the state cuts back, those needs that people have remain," she said. "Sometimes you end up cost-shifting back to the local government with the state cuts."

Members are also working on a bipartisan "matrix" for evaluating programs to help diffuse political liability from suggesting certain cuts. Based on a suggestion from Rep. Pat Flood, R-Winthrop, the system would allow lawmakers to identify certain general qualities they all agree are either desirable, such as affordability, or undesirable, such as redundency, and evaluate state programs in those terms.

"It is politically difficult to come out and say, 'Well, I want to cut this or cut that," because nobody wants to cut anything," Craven said. "(The matrix) will prevent a lot of finger-pointing and I think that was a great idea."

rmetzler@sunjournal.com

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Comments

 's picture

The first thing to cut is

The first thing to cut is revenue sharing for towns and cities by 25%. Then the burden of the cuts will be on the local level, and they can decide whether it is such a great idea to give welfare to huge corporations. Just recently Lewiston gave CMP $7million and Auburn gave TD Banknorth $5million. Time for corporate welfare is over, especially when the budget at the state level is being balanced on the back of poor and disabled people. Time for corporate America to pay it's way.

Mark Turek's picture

Our State of Maine

Our State of Maine Government has grown to become far too big and expensive, but that seems to be the goal of the liberal politicians and their buddies at SEIU/ACORN whom are pushing this downward spiral toward Socialism. If you're sick and tired of what's happening, stand up and let your voice be heard...remember, the government works for us!

Jonathan Albrecht's picture

Normally, comments on this

Normally, comments on this kind of story produce the silly, foolish, or just insane nonsense. Well today is no different. We are not overtaxed. The Governor and legislature have done a great job in controlling the budget given what has happenned throughout the country. In the mist of the worst recession (actually depression) since Hoover they have reduced the budget without causing permanent harm to the people of Maine.
Jon Albrecht Dixfield

ROGER COUTURIER's picture

It is high time that state

It is high time that state government is restructured. We need to shrink government. Start by reducing the size of the state legislature then eliminate or reduce departments. We are being overtaxed. It is not surprising that poeple are establishing residency in other states to avoid our what was initially suppose to be a temporary state income tax, rediculous excise tax and now a proposed sales tax hike which will be expanded to include recreational events, auto repair and other services. Businesses are paying tax on heating oil and there was talk of taxing heating oil for all. The direction of this state's government has me thinking of relocating to a friendlier and more affordable state.

DANNY FITZSIMMONS's picture

Wow I have an idea first

Wow I have an idea first combine at least 20% of state admins and supervisors then second pass a strong anti corruption law that will stop the fleeceing of the people of Maine and third tax Campain contributions and you will easilly balance the budget.

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