End-of-session spending spread around state

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LEWISTON – Last-minute spending by the Legislature and governor sent more than $1.2 million to programs around the state.

On Thursday, the day after the Legislature adjourned, Gov. John Baldacci announced two large appropriations for Washington County: $300,000 in emergency funding to prevent a foreclosure of the Downeast Heritage Museum in Calais and $210,000 to keep the Eastport Boat School where it is for the next academic year.

Neither the museum nor school had received funding requested from the Legislature.

The money was allocated from the governor’s emergency contingency funds, said Crystal Canney, a spokeswoman for the governor.

During its waning days, the Legislature also handed out almost $730,000 in last-minute appropriations.

While hundreds of millions of dollars worth of requests were not funded, more than two dozen programs around the state received some financial support. The money was dolled out by the Appropriations Committee, which had to decide which programs to fund and which to say no to during overnight work sessions crammed in between floor debates and votes.

According to Lewiston state Sen. Peggy Rotundo, the chairwoman of the Appropriations Committee, the Legislature considered funding for the school and the museum, along with a long list of other requests.

“We had two years’ worth of bills,” Rotundo said. “We were trying to prioritize which were the most important things to be funded.”

“We looked at the boat school and allocated $25,000 to facilitate a solution to that problem,” Rotundo said. “We did try to deal with that.”

Lawmakers spent $25,000 for the Marine Technology Center and on the school.

There were multiple requests from Washington County, Rotundo said, and the committee tried to put together a small package to help with the biggest priorities.

Rotundo said she was unaware that the governor intended to tap his contingency funds.

“We went through our process, and we honored our commitment not to exceed the $730,000 left from the supplemental budget,” Rotundo said.

According to Becky Wyke, commissioner of the Department of Administrative and Financial Services, the governor has access to $300,000 in annual contingency funds to spend in cases of emergencies.

He’ll use funds from this year and from the new fiscal year, which begins July 1, Wyke said.

“The emergency is the imminent closure of the museum and school, that they would cease to exist,” Wyke said.

The remainder of the money will come from small balances left in other state accounts that can be cobbled together at the end of the year to meet unexpected needs, Wyke said.

“Most often, (the governor) has used the accounts to shore up a business, to save jobs,” Wyke said. “In this case, he’s saying that he wants to make sure Washington County has the attractions it needs.”

From the Legislature

The Legislature found $50,000 to match money privately raised to build a convention center in Oxford Hills. The original request was for $250,000.

“There was about $730,000 on the Appropriations table,” said Speaker of the House John Richardson, D-Brunswick, “which was spent on very important issues around the state.”

Richardson pointed to $36,217 that will provide emergency economic development assistance for the Brunswick area as it prepares for the closing of the Brunswick Naval Air Station, and $80,000 to recapitalize the Maine Downtown Center, which helps to revitalize downtown areas in the state.

Meals on Wheels will receive $75,000 to increase the mileage reimbursement for its volunteer drivers. According to Rep. Margaret Craven, D-Lewiston and a member of the Appropriations Committee, the program was desperate for the funds. Without the higher reimbursement rates in response to high gasoline prices, she said in April, it would be difficult to keep the volunteers who use their own vehicles to deliver meals.

Similarly, lawmakers approved $50,000 to increase the wheelchair van services reimbursement rate so that providers wouldn’t have to operate at a loss.

A new grant program to encourage youth mentoring received $25,000, as did a measure that will add oral health to student screenings, which also include vision and hearing. The school breakfast program and the Sports Done Right initiative each received $25,000.

The 122nd Legislature adjourned just before midnight Wednesday.

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Other projects

• $75,000 for the Washington County Development Authority;

• $30,000 for the seed potato board for equipment needed at the Porter Seed Farm;

• $25,000 to re-establish the Maine Coast Environmental Trust Fund;

• $25,000 for the preservation of digital records;

• $20,000 for a one-year reduction in the sales and use tax on biofuels;

• $18,569 to exempt trail-grooming equipment from the personal property tax;

• $15,000 for the Downeast Institute for Applied Marine Research and Education.

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