LePage calls budget proposal, "jobs bill"

AUGUSTA, Maine (AP) — Gov. Paul LePage on Thursday outlined for Maine lawmakers his spending priorities in a two-year budget that increases aid to public schools, cuts taxes and seeks to chip away at a public debt that he believes impedes the creation of badly needed jobs.

LePage budget proposal
AP Photo/Joel Page

Gov. Paul LePage greets legislators as he prepares to announce his two-year state budget to a joint session of the Maine Legislature, Thursday, Feb. 10, 2011 in Augusta, Maine.

"Our 2012-1013 biennial budget is a jobs bill," the Republican governor said of his first proposed spending blueprint since his election in November. But he also said it also calls for some pain, particularly among state employees, whose retirement age would rise from 62, the age applying to most of the workers, to 65 for new and recent hires. Retirees also would be asked to forego cost-of-living increases in the near term and accept "modest" increases in the future, the governor said.

While the budget includes state worker retirement incentives, it does not call for mass layoffs, furloughs or across-the-board cuts that helped balance recent budgets.

Of the more than $500 million saved in retirement system debt, $63 million more would go to public school education, bringing the total to $914 million by fiscal 2013, LePage told a joint assembly of the House and Senate.

"And it will not be enough," said LePage, whose budget does not include cuts to the state's community college or university systems.

He was interrupted by applause numerous times.

Minority Democrats adopted a wait-and-see attitude on LePage's proposal, which now goes to the Appropriations Committee.

There was no mention of a bottom line in LePage's address. Ryan Low, who has been formulating the package, said not all of the final figures had been developed by Thursday but total general fund spending would be in the $5.6 billion-$5.8 billion range of the current two-year budget.

LePage's budget calls for $203 million in tax reductions through the biennium, which starts July 1. That's accomplished through conformity of state with federal taxes, elimination of the so-called marriage penalty and increasing the personal exemption. Coupled with a higher standard deduction, the changes would completely eliminate state tax liability for 15,000 more Mainers, said LePage, who also wants to lower the top income tax rate and get rid of gasoline tax indexing.

The budget seeks to save $20 million by eliminating what LePage called "instant eligibility" for welfare and a five-year time limit on eligibility. It also calls for MaineCare recipients to contribute, based on their ability to pay, to the cost of state-sponsored health care coverage.

"We're going back to a work environment and not a dependency environment," said LePage, who was raised in poverty and homelessness and remarked, "I've been there and done that."

The governor's presentation drew a mixed response from Democrats, who said they had not seen the fine print and emphasized that a long, arduous legislative review lies ahead.

"It's a good starting point," said Senate Democratic Leader Barry Hobbins of Saco. "But the devil's in the details."

House Democratic Leader Emily Cain of Orono applauded the proposed increases to education and no wide-scale layoffs of state workers, but questioned some of the figures relating to state borrowing and pensions. Asked if there were any provisions that Democrats would find unacceptable, Cain said it wouldn't be fair this early "to draw a line in the sand."

Sen. Justin Alfond of Portland, the assistant Senate Democratic leader, dismissed much of LePage's address as "a lot of sound bites" and a rehash of campaign rhetoric.

Republicans said they too are eager to see the details of the plan, but at first glance it looked good.

Senate President Kevin Raye of Perry said the budgeting process is made more difficult by federal requirements in programs such as Medicaid, but said he's pleased with LePage's efforts to bolster education, reduce the tax burden and preserve vital social services.

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Comments

Amy  McDaniel's picture

The turning point.

LaPage may not be the most socially refined leader this state has ever seen, but if he can pull off this budget and make more people work in this state, I say more power to him. There is no reason why welfare shoud be a way of life for any citizen in this state. We need an educated society! If he allows for 5 years that is long enough to obtain a BA or BS degree, plus a year to find a job. I think that people who get benefits from the state such as Mainecare should be obligated to pay based on what they can afford. It is sickening to see a person on Mainecare be charged $3.00 for a prescription and ask to charge it, yet have cigarettes and beer or a cart full of junk food and be in better clothing then the working person behing the counter. Yes, I think we all share in responsibilty for medical debt. He wants to eliminate gasoline tax indexing- Go LaPage! No more saying gas is to expensive to go out and drive to a job interview! He is not cutting education and he is talking about reducing the "marriage penalty" in the state tax system! Yes! Go LaPage. I don't care what luncheons this guy attends or doesn't attend. I don't care who gets offended by his presence or lack there of if he can turn this state into a place that has jobs, an educated population, and balanced budget. GO LaPage :)

Bob Woodbury's picture

...full of sound and fury,

signifying nothing." Again.

Jim Cyr's picture

personal responsibility

Ms. Dunn, That is what will help more than DEPENDENCY. Go and further your education, learn a trade, participate in your local churches and other community "out reach" programs! The majority of poverty is due to single family households! Where have the direction of the morals of society been heading in? The two parent family household seems to be extent!

Melissa  Dunn's picture

there are so many more

there are so many more aspects and kinds of people who will be affected. it seems as though the eligibility plan will ONLY pertain to single parent/person(?). there are people with mental health illnesses and physical disabilities that are unable to work and have to wait up to 2yrs for social security as it is. during that process of waiting... and being denied... and appealing... a person is able to get help from the state for food and a sort of restricted medical-for the time being that is. i believe people with disabilities make up for more than a single persons/parent. many are too quick to judge... they are too quick to prosecute... too quick to generalize. there is more than meets the eye.

Melissa  Dunn's picture

i think a 5-yr eligibility is

i think a 5-yr eligibility is ludicrous... we are well into a recession and hard-working families' lives are being turned upside down because of loss of jobs. and people are not hiring. prices are skyrocketing on the basic essentials needed to survive. there are stand-up people out there that truly need the help... not just the assistance but to even qualify for other programs in the state of maine to further their skills/education, etc. programs like the food bank are just not good enough and not to mention lack of health care. i'm worried for my fellow citizens in my city and in my state who desperately need the help.

Terry Donald's picture

The savings here will be no

The savings here will be no thanks to LePage. So instead of asking current working state employees to take furlow days to cut the budget, he's asking retired state employees to take cuts. The reason it looks like he's creating savings is that there has been an increase in state revenue by over 300 million dollars, that increase is thanks to the PREVIOUS administration, not LePage.
And job creation budget? Nowhere in here does this create or attract one job to the state.
Jobs will come as the national economy continues to recover, continues to recover by the way from the near death blow dealt by the Bush Administration,

Fred Stone's picture

Welfare reform

Welfare reform has been a long time coming, it" about time this is addressed.

Doreen Sheive's picture

For goodness sakes

We keep throwing money at the school system with results getting worse and worse. The state has made retirement promises to its employees which I believe they should keep. I think it is awful that this Governor thinks he can take away benefits to retirees that have been promised in order to pay for other programs. No way.

Jason Theriault's picture

Biased?

The fact that your a state employee wouldn't have anything to do with that?

Jason Theriault's picture

What attitude?

I was merely pointing out that the poster was a state employee, and therefore biased. I really don't have an issue with how much state workers are paid. However, if I have to chose between cutting school programs or increasing the retirement age to 65 for state employees, well, sorry. Your just gonna have to stick it out 3 more years.

The private sector jobs already have been going through this. We have been hit with pay cuts, layoffs, longer hours and more work. So, suck it up.

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