Maine budget restorations unveiled

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AUGUSTA, Maine (AP) — Gov. John Baldacci presented a state budget rewrite Wednesday that reflects a slightly improved economy and restores some services he previously proposed cutting, most notably in social services and schools.

The restorations reflect $51 million in upgraded revenue projections and nearly $28 million in additional Medicaid funding from the federal government. Thanks to those funding boosts, Maine’s revenue shortfall was lowered last week from $438 million to $360 million less than halfway through the two-year budget cycle.

Baldacci, who outlined his proposals at a news briefing in his office, did not rule out further changes in the weeks left before lawmakers adjourn, saying the economy — which drives the state budget — remains unpredictable.

“Despite today’s good news, we know the economy is fragile and our economy is far from certain,” the governor said.

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The largest piece of the funding restoration — $37 million — is targeted for services including support for nursing homes, assisted living facilities, services for the disabled, home-based care and mental health crisis intervention. The restored funding represents more than half of the human services cuts that had been proposed by the governor in December.

In addition, he proposes restoring $20 million in funding for public schools and $8 million for higher education.

Property taxpayers also gain a measure of relief by the restoration of $6 million in municipal revenue sharing.

While the state still faces a huge shortfall, Baldacci once again ruled out tax increases to balance the books. He said that amid the difficult economy, “Maine families and businesses cannot afford a greater burden.”

The governor, who has begun the final year of his two, four-year terms, said he was trying to shape state finances so as not to leave office with programs and services that are underfunded and taxpayers can’t afford.

Minority Republican legislative leaders said they had not seen the details of the governor’s latest proposal, but said it appeared to be a step in the right direction. The proposals will be reviewed by the Appropriations Committee before they go to the House and Senate.

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