AUGUSTA (AP) – Gov. John Baldacci proposed Wednesday to scrap substantial cuts in mental health and human services programs contained in his latest budget-balancing package and offset them by booking higher revenue figures from a variety of sources.

A major portion of the offsetting revenue would stem from stepped-up tax collection efforts, Commissioner Rebecca Wyke of the Administrative and Financial Services Department told the Legislature’s Appropriations Committee.

Presenting revisions to a measure designed to cover a $48 million revenue gap diagnosed for the two-year budget cycle that begins July 1, Wyke said the additional revenue would allow for restorations approaching $6 million in proposed program cuts.

The restorations had been called for by a unanimous Health and Human Services Committee.

Within the Department of Behavioral and Developmental Services, the Baldacci revisions would restore nearly $2.4 million for mental health community services, more than $1.1 million for mental retardation community services and close to $680,000 for the office of substance abuse.

In the Department of Human Services, more than $1.3 million would be retained for foster care clothing allowances and $440,000 would be restored for home-based care services.

An enhanced tax collection drive would include a heightened effort to obtain use-tax payments on expensive items brought into the state.

Deliberations on the Appropriations Committee, with some members doing double duty by serving on a special panel considering the Baldacci health care overhaul plan, is expected to extend into next week.

The administration reversals on cutbacks in mental health and human services programs announced Wednesday won praise from several panelists.

“It’s like Christmas,” joked the committee’s House chairman, Democratic Rep. Joseph Brannigan of Portland, even as he inquired about the possibility of higher levels of human services funding.

Wyke, restating an administration refrain, told the panel that the governor and his department chiefs shared concerns about some elements of the original package.

Public hearings earlier this month attracted numerous critics seeking to defend programs offering direct and support services.

Baldacci’s proposal also includes a plan for revamping an emergency state reserve fund and link spending growth to personal income growth.

Under his plan, General Fund revenues exceeding an appropriations cap would be channeled into a budget stabilization fund from which transfers could be made when revenues dip.

Saying he would not want to put such a spending curb into the state constitution, Baldacci has also acknowledged that future lawmakers could vote more easily to bypass a statutory stricture.

To date, the Democratic administration has managed to win bipartisan support for most of its budget initiatives.

AP-ES-05-21-03 1753EDT


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