Panel nearly done with budget work

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AUGUSTA — Late Sunday night members of the Appropriations Committee were working to finish their work on closing a $310 million budget gap. Lawmakers and state officials struggled to find ways to make up for lost revenues and increased expenses as a result of the crippling economic recession that gripped states across the country since 2008.

Lawmakers agreed to make two major changes from proposals put forth by Gov. John Baldacci. Legislators scrapped Baldacci’s controversial and unpopular proposal to find more than $1 million in savings by consolidating parts of Maine’s four natural resource agencies and instead agreed to minor changes that would not result in any budget savings.

“We’re asking the next administration to do three things: move management of all state boat launch facilities to a single natural resource agency, have various agencies and their staffs co-located in various regional offices to increase communication and collaboration, and the third item would move toward rational alignment of districts for natural resources, again, to increase communication and collaboration,” said state Rep. Pat Flood, R-Winthrop, on Friday when the issue was discussed.

Flood said the changes would not result in any savings in this budget and would maintain autonomy for all four agencies, but would encourage structural efficiencies. He worked with other members to find the necessary savings to offset the governor’s proposal.

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Legislators also agreed to accept a one-time $4.2 million payment from Maine hospitals in exchange for eliminating cuts to certain reimbursement rates that would have resulted in ongoing losses in state and federal monies for health providers. A similar budget maneuver has been used in the past.

Many of the initial cuts proposed by Baldacci’s original supplemental budget announced last December were scaled back, based largely on increased state revenues and unanticipated additional federal Medicaid funding.

Baldacci has made three budget revisions in total as he reacted to fluctuating state revenues among other factors.

Of the $90 million in originally proposed cuts to the Department of Health and Human Services. Only about $25 million remain. The most controversial cuts, which had included a nearly 10 percent across the board reduction to nursing home and community-based care providers, were mitigated.

Cuts to both higher education and state general purpose aid to municipalities were also smaller than originally anticipated. Instead of more than $70 million in GPA cuts, the total reduction amounts to about $48 million. In higher education, the proposed $16 million cuts were halved.

Baldacci had proposed $27 million in cuts to municipal revenue-sharing, but in the package voted out by the panel just $16 million was cut.

Earlier calls for temporary sales tax increases by some members of the public who were protesting the cuts were left unanswered and largely undiscussed by lawmakers who found other ways to achieve a balanced budget.

Overall, the original $5.8 billion state biennial budget passed last year by the Legislature was reduced by about $100 million.

The proposal will be scheduled for votes by the full Legislature in the coming weeks.

rmetzler@sunjournal.com

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