AUGUSTA (AP) – Gov. John Baldacci maintained Friday that the Appropriations Committee need not have split along party lines over a supplemental budget measure.

Hours earlier, Democrats and Republicans formalized their opposing stances, leaving Baldacci and his Democratic allies positioned to push through another fiscal package without significant GOP support.

“If there’s another way of doing it and gaining more, I’d like to know what it is,” Baldacci told reporters invited to his office at midday for a budget overview.

All-but-final committee voting hours earlier, however, makes bipartisan agreement highly unlikely when debate moves to the full Legislature.

Republicans said the emerging plan depended too much on short-term fixes that would do too little to rein in future spending.

“It doesn’t solve structural problems,” House Minority Leader Joe Bruno, R-Raymond, said Friday.

Democratic lawmakers, sticking to much of the framework of the governor’s original proposal, are relying as he initially proposed on a $38.5 million divestment of an internal service fund for retiree health, $11.4 million in property transfers and $9.4 million in anticipated Powerball lottery revenue to offset a $127 million Medicaid shortfall in the coming year, provide an additional $15 million to local schools and cover other emergency spending demands.

“Despite the immense difficulties the committee faced in bridging a $160 million budget gap, it successfully delivered a thoughtful and responsible proposal,” House Speaker Patrick Colwell, D-Gardiner, said in a statement.

“I am pleased that it minimizes cuts for the most vulnerable Mainers while taking great strides to manage and control spending within the MaineCare program.”

Baldacci originally proposed around $80 million in various Medicaid program cutbacks, including the elimination of more than a dozen specific services as part of what he has billed a redesign of the state’s subsidized health care program.

While calling the opening Baldacci proposal too severe, the Republican minority has been seeking to maintain his original level of Medicaid savings.

Democratic lawmakers are insisting on about $20 million in so-called restorations. Under the majority report developed by the Appropriations Committee, once targeted services will not be eliminated, but may be more limited through a managed care approach.

According to top Baldacci health care policy aide Trish Riley, major elements in the remaining $60 million in savings would be achieved through policy changes affecting pharmacies – worth up to $10 million – nursing homes – around $4 million – and long term and home-based care.

Democrats said a new voluntary mail order prescription program would save the state nearly $5 million.

By excluding what the administration defines as new broad-based taxes, the revised budget-balancing package “retains the safety net … and at the same time makes sure that Maine is competitive” economically, Baldacci said.

The governor said the revised package could reduce a looming gap between available revenue and anticipated spending for the next biennium from a current level of $900 million or more by about $200 million.

Debate could shift to the full Legislature next week. At least one more Appropriations Committee meeting is expected.

Baldacci’s suggestion Friday that both sides could find common ground was dismissed by Bruno.

“I hope he’s not fooling anybody,” the House Republican leader said.

The Democratic budget measure does not address an expansion of Maine’s laptops-for-students initiative that Baldacci favors, and he said Friday lawmakers could still take that up before they adjourn.

Similarly, money to compensate victims of abuse at Maine’s Baxter school for the deaf did not make it into the majority committee package, but Baldacci said he remained committed to seeking funding.

Administration officials said they had whittled down the number of new employee positions in the package from more than 90 in Baldacci’s original submission to a net of 30 in the revised package.

On the General Fund side, the reduction was from 87 to 25, officials said.

The new net figures, however, do not include a number of positions not being counted as permanent, including 20 General Fund slots for corrections, according to Baldacci budget chief Rebecca Wyke.

Noted in the numbers is a reduction of 31 positions stemming from the merger of the state departments of human services and mental health.

The Democratic package counts on about $1.1 million in increased court fines, $2.5 million in corporate fees and $5.2 million from a security issuers’ registration fee, according to a Baldacci administration summary.

AP-ES-04-09-04 1638EDT



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