House dooms spending-cap override effort

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AUGUSTA (AP) – A split between the Maine Senate and House of Representatives has doomed a parliamentary effort to require super-majorities in the Legislature to override a state spending cap.

Because the current spending cap does not appear to be imperiled now, debate on the override procedure in recent weeks has been widely regarded as symbolic.

The final vote on the matter came Tuesday as the Democratic-controlled House voted 79-61 not to go along with the Senate, which is under less firm Democratic control, in favoring the establishment of a two-thirds threshold for overcoming spending limits.

Attorney General Steven Rowe, a Democrat, had advised lawmakers that his office believed there were constitutional problems with the proposal to insert a super-majority requirement in joint legislative rules.

Republicans assumed the lead role in pressing for the rules change, which in part echoes portions of the public discussion last fall about the failed Taxpayer Bill of Rights referendum initiative.

The existing statutory formula allows for general spending growth of 3.08 percent in the upcoming two-year budget cycle and does not apply to substantial planned growth in money for local schools, a top Baldacci administration official said.

According to gubernatorial Deputy Chief of Staff Ryan Low, Gov. John Baldacci’s new budget package for the 2008-09 biennium would fall about $68 million under the caps for each of the two coming years.

Following Tuesday’s voting, the Legislature’s Appropriations Committee continued its initial review of a supplemental budget bill covering the last half of fiscal 2007. The panel is expected to wrap up its work on that package before turning its attention to a $6.4 billion General Fund budget for 2008-09 submitted earlier this month by Gov. John Baldacci.

The Baldacci package would increase state spending by an average 4.6 percent, including a big infusion of local school aid, in each of the next two years, according to administration officials.

Also on Tuesday, Maine’s Consensus Economic Forecasting Commission held one of its periodic meetings to tweak its estimates for wage and salary employment growth, personal income growth and consumer price inflation.

Its latest assumptions, reflecting some minor changes, are to be reviewed by a separate panel known as the state Revenue Forecasting Committee that makes actual revenue projections for the Highway and General funds.

Lawmakers and the governor rely on those projections in weighing budget plans.

Late last year the panel boosted General Fund revenue projections through mid-2009 by nearly $270 million.

AP-ES-01-23-07 1536EST

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