AUGUSTA (AP) – Maine’s two Democratic congressmen and the party’s legislative leaders launched an election-year attack Monday on President Bush’s proposed 2005 budget, saying it will damage vital programs as Maine faces its own budget shortfall.

Gov. John Baldacci joined his fellow Democrats from the sidelines, issuing a brief statement that the Bush spending plan makes Maine’s efforts to balance its own budget “even more challenging.”

But Republicans dismissed the Democrats’ claims as political rhetoric and defended Bush’s budget, which seeks to spend $2.4 trillion next year, as fair and responsible.

Democrats, led by U.S. Reps. Tom Allen and Michael Michaud, of Portland, said that under the budget Bush sent to Congress, Maine would get $38 million less than promised to implement the No Child Left Behind school-reform law.

Allen, from southern Maine’s 1st District, said the state will get $52 million less than Congress promised for special education. Democrats also said Maine will share in cuts Medicaid, rural health, economic development and job training programs which are part of the budget.

“I can think of no president since Medicaid was enacted in 1965 that was more dangerous to Medicaid and the people who rely on it,” said Judy Guay of Orono, who is enrolled in the program and heads an advocacy group for low-income people, the Maine Association of Interdependent Neighborhoods.

Democrats said the program cuts are sought as Bush tries to make tax reductions for the wealthiest taxpayers permanent.

“The Bush administration is fiscally reckless and profoundly unfair,” Allen said.

House Majority Leader John Richardson of Brunswick labeled as “shortsighted” a proposal to cut a U.S. Small Business Administration program that helps small businesses start up.

Senate Majority Leader Sharon Treat of Farmingdale said a $600 million cut in Environmental Protection Agency funding would severely restrict enforcement of the clean air and water acts.

Democrats could not come up with a dollar figure reflecting the Bush budget’s impact on federally funded programs in Maine. Allen said estimating a number is difficult because Bush seeks to “flat fund” programs in some cases and in others does not provide promised levels of spending.

The head of Maine’s Bush-Cheney campaign took issue with the Democrats’ claims.

“While some are trying to play politics in this election year, the president is taking strong action and his budget addresses the priorities of Maine and the rest of the nation,” said Peter Cianchette.

In addition to substantial increases in protecting the nation’s security, the Bush budget seeks to increase funding for economic growth, job creation, education and affordable health care, Cianchette said.

Maine GOP Executive Director Dwayne Bickford said state government’s own budget problems are due to overspending.

The Democrats spoke out two days before Baldacci is scheduled to present a tax relief and fiscal reform package for the state.

Before the end of the week, he plans to unveil a 2005 supplemental budget package that makes up for a revenue shortfall in excess of $100 million, spokesman Lee Umphrey said.

Baldacci did not attend Monday’s news conference because he was in budget meetings, Umphrey said.

But the governor released a statement saying, “Maine faces very difficult economic times as we tackle our own budget shortfall.”

The statement said Bush’s budget “makes these efforts even more challenging for Maine as we try to continue to provide necessary services and create opportunity.”

AP-ES-03-01-04 1728EST



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