AUGUSTA – Forget about the two parties working together today when the state budget hits the Senate and House floors.

Partisan votes will be in high style, with Democrats likely to get their budget passed without Republicans, since Democrats hold a small majority in both the House and Senate.

Emotions were high Wednesday when House Speaker John Richardson, D-Brunswick, warned Democrats that if they didn’t pass the majority budget by March 31, “people will die.”

Republican House Leader David Bowles, R-Sanford, responded by saying “that’s absurd” and said the speaker’s statement was “irresponsible.”

Republicans are unhappy with the way the budget is being balanced, which they say is being done by borrowing without reducing the state’s ongoing deficit. They predicted that people won’t like having to pay $10 to use canoes or kayaks this summer, or pay higher fines for not wearing seat belts.

Budget talks between the parties broke down late last week after Republicans insisted on more program cuts, said Rep. Sawin Millett, R-Waterford. Democrats already agreed to $425 million in cuts, and Republicans wanted $215 million more. Democrats on the Appropriations Committee ended up voting 8-5 to recommend a budget without GOP support.

During a caucus Wednesday, Richardson told Democrats he doesn’t like the idea of borrowing $447 million to balance the state budget, but he said there’s little choice given the Republicans’ and Gov. John Baldacci’s no-new-taxes stand.

The price of not borrowing, Richardson said, is “$215 million in cuts and 500 people” who would lose their state jobs.

If Democrats don’t stand together and support the majority budget, “mark my word, you will lose 500 state workers” who deliver mental health services, the speaker said. “People will be hurt badly. People will die,” Richardson said. “You have to trust us that what we’re doing is the right thing.”

Republicans responded by saying they never proposed to cut 500 jobs. Republicans wanted to reduce the state deficit by one-third, or $215 million, Millett said, but never proposed laying off workers. “That was never even put on the table,” he said.

Bowles agreed, and said Republicans did suggest money could be saved by eliminating positions that are now unfilled. “There are not 500 vacant jobs, that’s absurd,” he said. “We were looking at 100 or 150 vacant positions.”

Meanwhile, Republicans vowed not to vote for the budget, and will try to change it during floor votes. “I don’t see any way I can support the budget,” Millett said. “We’re left on a course for not only one-time, but ongoing spending using a very large credit card,” he said. “That cash is all borrowed money.”

Republicans will again propose their “continuing resolution” that would continue the existing state budget for three more months. Democrats have already rejected that, since any budget passed after April 1 would require a two-thirds supermajority vote, which would be difficult to achieve.

Republicans say they want 90 more days to reach a two-thirds majority budget, “but they want us to do the dirty work. They want to check and see how stupid you are,” House Majority Leader Glenn Cummings, D-Portland, told Democrats during the caucus.

Cummings said he hasn’t touched a hunting rifle since he was 16, so it isn’t in his personal interest to support the fees. “But I think there’s an equity interest in trying to be fair to sportsmen who for years have paid for search and research missions and wildlife biologists.”


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