AUGUSTA (AP) – Maine budget negotiators, voting unanimously while leaving room for one more round of review, declared support Saturday morning for a reworked package building on Gov. John Baldacci’s proposal to bridge a $48 million revenue gap.

In striking the deal, lawmakers and the administration also agreed to draw on some newly available federal dollars to boost spending in some areas.

Nearly $6 million would be restored for children’s mental health services under the all-but-final plan. Another $1 million would be earmarked for the University of Maine System to reduce tuition rates for in-state students.

Final scrutiny and any additional fine-tuning of the package is expected this week.

“They’ve got a couple of language issues they’ll deal with on Monday,” said Commissioner Rebecca Wyke of the Maine Department of Administrative and Financial Services, who serves as Baldacci’s budget chief.

Among the items to be looked at again is how the bill will treat the fledgling Legislative Office of Program Evaluation and Government Accountability, which was created last year.

The new budget-balancing accord would provide $300,000 in funding for the new office in each of the coming two years.

The committee package also retains a version of Baldacci’s call for a new budget stabilization fund.

The budget-balancing agreement, if it holds, would be another success for the Baldacci administration at a time when two other matters that he put at the top of his legislative agenda are also still pending.

On Friday, a majority of a special legislative panel lined up behind a revised version of Baldacci’s health care reform package, but left open a possibility of reconsideration.

The amendment backed by the panel majority calls for the state to provide start-up funding of $53 million for the first year of operation of a new Dirigo Health program.

The vote of the Joint Select Committee on Health Care Reform was 9-5, with only one Republican siding with the majority. Several of the Republicans who voted no, however, said they might sign on after a fuller review.

Still stalled in committee is a Baldacci proposal to partially overhaul Maine’s tax system.

Billed by the governor as a measure that could compete with a looming ballot question on state education aid backed by the Maine Municipal Association, the Baldacci plan faces competition of its own from other suggestions advanced within the Taxation Committee.

Saturday’s tentative budget agreement came after days of private negotiations among various groups of lawmakers and administration officials and at the end of a final marathon stretch that began Friday morning.

For most of the day participants in the talks described all parties as close to a deal, but the pace of deliberations appeared to pick up only after darkness fell.

After several days in recess, the full Legislature reconvenes Monday.



Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.