AUGUSTA – Depending on what party’s doing the talking, there’s either big trouble with the short time left to get the state budget passed, or this year is completely normal.

At dueling news conferences Tuesday, Rep. Sawin Millett, R-Waterford, summed up the GOP budget issue with: “There’s not enough time.”

Yes there is, responded Sen. Peggy Rotundo, D-Lewiston. “We can do it,” she said.

The Republicans went first, gathering for their news conference on the State House steps to announce they had a deal for Democrats, a way to solve budget differences and improve bipartisan spirits.

Since there is not enough time to resolve the $400 million worth of budget disagreements in time by April 1, Democrats should accept a “continuing resolution” budget, Millett offered.

That would allow the current level of spending to continue into June, July and August, giving lawmakers “the time we need” to resolve differences, he explained.

The continuing resolution has been used before, during the 1991 state shutdown, said Millett, who then worked for Gov. John McKernan as the chief budget officer. The GOP resolution “would provide the time to do the responsible thing. We offer this as a good faith gesture,” Millett said.

Millett and House Republican Minority Leader David Bowles, R-Sanford, said the whole point “is to avoid a state shutdown.”

But Democrats said the offer was one they could refuse. In fact state government shut down when that strategy was used.

“We tried the continuing resolution in 1991. It didn’t work,” said Sen. John Martin, D-Eagle Lake. With continuing resolutions, the state budget was passed in pieces to pay workers or give money to schools. “We had to pass mini-budgets.”

The only way to ensure no threat of a shutdown is to pass a budget before April 1, then adjourn, then come back into session. That way a budget could be passed with a simple majority instead of a two-thirds vote.

Any budget passed after April 1, including the GOP’s proposed continuing resolution, would need a supermajority, which could delay the budget.

At the Democratic news conference, party leaders said they want a budget passed with Republican support. “We want a two-thirds budget,” said Senate President Beth Edmonds, D-Freeport. The time left for the Appropriations Committee to vote on a recommendation “is not unusual at all,” she said.

Rotundo, who co-chairs the Appropriations Committee, agreed.

There are issues to be solved, Rotundo said. The biggest is Gov. John Baldacci’s controversial plan to sell $250 million in state lottery proceeds, as well as some $90 million in cuts in Baldacci’s budget that various committees have not accepted. One includes the controversial Sunday hunting proposal that was yanked out of the budget, meaning that Sunday hunting would now be difficult to pass. Having only $350 million worth of disagreements out of a $5.7 billion budget is good progress, Rotundo said.

“The irony is that our committee is working well together. Press conferences provide dissension and discord,” she said. “If there is a will to finish in the next 10 days, we can do it.”

When asked if her committee would consider the Republicans’ continuing resolution, Rotundo said she wasn’t sure when. The proposal surfaced for the first time on Tuesday. “We’ve got a full schedule.”

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