Make no mistake. The Bush administration’s budget proposal will result in higher costs and fewer services in Maine.

This afternoon, Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins must vote against the budget proposal because we don’t know what billion dollar figure the administration will submit for the war in Iraq and the recommended tax cuts are just too deep.

Let’s look at this from the bottom up.

Maine’s enormous deficit has created a painful budget crunch. The governor has crafted a nearly balanced budget – shy by just $48 million – to cover operational costs for the next two years. The draft state budget is based on the assumption that federal funding remains steady.

It won’t.

It can’t.

The federal government is shouldering a record deficit and it is preposterous to assume steady funding.

Congress has already made it clear that it must reduce Medicaid reimbursements across the country. In Maine, the loss could be $600 million in the next decade. Congress also intends to cut funding for foster care, school lunches and other social services.

Maine could either reduce programs to offset lost revenue, or maintain programs and tap taxpayers for the difference. Either way, it will hurt.

The anticipated reduction in federal funding is not included in the governor’s fast-track budget so whatever the Legislature decides by April 1 will have to be reconsidered.

Making matters worse, as Congress pencils in funding reductions it is inking more than $700 billion in tax cuts.

There has been strong argument that tax cuts will spark the stock market and help create jobs.

The 2001 Economic Growth and Tax Relief Act – remember when taxpayers were mailed refunds of up to $300? – was supposed to do the same thing. It didn’t.

The stock market remains unsteady and job losses are marching along.

Congress appears to be in as much a rush to pass a budget as the Maine Legislature, and it doesn’t yet have a bill in hand for the war.

Until Congress knows what we are likely to spend in Iraq it can’t possibly approve a reasonable federal budget.

Until the Legislature knows what funding levels the federal government settles on it can’t possibly approve a reasonable state budget.

That is, unless lawmakers don’t mind repeating their work and billing constituents the cost.

President Bush has already announced that he will approach Congress in a matter of days for emergency war funding, possibly as much as $75 billion. If a federal budget passes today it will have to be supplemented next week.

In Maine, the Appropriations Committee already must craft a supplemental budget to bridge the gap in the current budget and may very well have to craft a second supplemental budget to bridge the gap in the as-yet-to-be-balanced biennial budget. As federal funding reductions become known, a third supplemental budget is highly likely.

Each time we supplement a budget, it means squeezing more dollars from taxpayers or reducing spending.

This stop-gap method, knowingly approving incomplete budgets and repeatedly going back to taxpayers for more money, is a sloppy way to set a budget.

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