AUGUSTA — Maine lawmakers were greeted with a boisterous protest Tuesday as they headed back to finish work on the state's budget.
Dozens of people opposed to proposed cuts to the state's Department of Health and Human Services lined the corridors to the Maine Senate and House of Representatives chanting, "Protect Maine families" and "Maine can do better" and "No more cuts."
The chanting could be heard as a muffled roar inside the Senate chamber when Senate President Kevin Raye, R-Perry, called the Senate to order.
On the agenda is a budget proposal that aims to solve a more than $80 million shortfall in the DHHS budget.
The proposal includes eligibility changes for MaineCare, a low-income senior citizen prescription drug program and the state's share of funding for Head Start programs.
Maine Can Do Better, a statewide coalition of advocacy groups including Engage Maine, Maine Equal Justice Partners, the Maine Women's Lobby, Maine Center for Economic Policy, Fund for a Healthy Maine, Planned Parenthood of Northern New England and the National Association of Social Workers Maine, organized the corridor rally Tuesday.
The budget cuts are "indefensible," said Ben Dudley, executive director of Engage Maine. "This is not the Maine we believe in."
State Rep. Peggy Rotundo, D-Lewiston, said the process Tuesday would involve the bill bouncing back and forth between the legislative bodies, beginning with the Senate.
Rotundo said she was heartened to see the large number of protesters.
"People are really starting to understand how irresponsible and dangerous this budget is," she said.
As many as 10 amendments to the bill were expected to be voted on in the Senate. Rotundo anticipated the House would hold its first debate on the measure in the afternoon.
The Senate promptly tabled the measure and, as of 11:30 a.m., was awaiting the printing and distribution of the proposed amendments.