AUGUSTA (AP) – The Baldacci administration has begun to brief legislative leaders on how the governor proposes to close the remaining gap in this year’s state budget, and a push for prompt House and Senate action is likely.

The fiscal 2003 deficit, which stems from a revenue shortfall and a demand for unanticipated departmental expenditures, has been pegged in excess of $20 million.

The hole was left unaddressed when a $5.3 billion current services budget for the upcoming two-year cycle, which begins July 1, was enacted recently.

“I see no major policy changes,” says Senate President Beverly Daggett, D-Augusta. “It all looks pretty straightforward.”

Daggett suggested that the supplemental budget will depend largely on adjustments within various accounts.

“Mostly balances and things of that type,” she said.

Daggett said voting on a budget-balancing plan could come within the next two weeks before lawmakers take a partial break following the Patriot’s Day holiday.

That timing would further load up the Appropriations Committee, which is in the midst of public hearings on bond proposals worth in aggregate about $500 million.

Gov. John Baldacci has expressed hope that lawmakers will render a verdict on at least a portion of his $175 million bond package as soon as possible.

Baldacci has said he would like to expedite ordinary procedure and put two of the four pieces he has proposed – a $70 million economic development bond and a $13.3 million borrowing for the University of Maine System, the fledgling community college system, state parks, the courts and local arts and cultural projects – before state voters in June.

According to gubernatorial chief of staff Jane Lincoln, that would require legislative action this week.

Some lawmakers, including House Minority Leader Joe Bruno, R-Raymond, have sounded lukewarm about accelerating a bond package review and putting some borrowing items out for a spring vote.

But Daggett and House Chairman Joseph Brannigan, D-Portland, of the Appropriations Committee voiced support for the administration’s interest in seeking an early statewide vote on some type of economic stimulus instead of waiting until balloting in November.

“It’s on the fast track,” Daggett said.

Substantively seeking to jump-start some development projects would also be symbolic, Daggett said, demonstrating that “there is activity going on and there is important infrastructure work to be done.”

Two other Baldacci borrowing proposals – $75 million for highway and bridge improvements and other transportation projects and $16.8 million for water pollution control facilities and other environmental measures – would go on November ballots under the governor’s plan.

Legislative enactment of a biennial budget 10 days ago came on overwhelming bipartisan votes in both the House and Senate.

Despite passage of that package, however, a fiscal 2004-2005 shortfall of $48 million is still looming.


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