AUGUSTA – State lawmakers were sent home for Easter Thursday without voting on a budget as Democratic leaders scrambled to change the budget to make it more passable.

Because Republicans are largely against the budget, and because Democrats outnumber Republicans only 76-73 in the House, leaders took notice when rank-and-file Democrats made complaints.

Rep. Sonya Sampson, D-Auburn, said she was unhappy about balancing the budget by borrowing, and didn’t like higher canoe and kayak fees without any public hearings. The budget seemed poorly planned and “sucks all the way around,” Sampson said during a caucus.

Sampson said she finds herself with a choice of voting for something that’s “bad or worse.” With Gov. John Baldacci’s opposition to any new taxes to pay for needed services, “I’ll have to hold my nose and vote for the budget,” Sampson said, adding that things could have been done differently.

Democrat leaders explained Thursday that the proposals to tax canoes and kayaks $10 a year, along with higher fines for not wearing seat belts, were being pulled because some could not support a budget that included those hikes.

“Many of you have told us ‘I’m not sure I could sell it politically with my friends back home,'” said House Majority Leader Glenn Cummings, D-Portland. With Maine police pulling their support for higher seat belt fines, members complained that the higher fines would be unfair.

The Appropriations Committee’s co-chairman, Rep. Joseph Brannigan, D-Portland, said even though money from boat fees and higher seat belt fines was coming out of the budget, it would still be balanced. “We have a cushion,” Brannigan said.

Rep. Margaret Craven, D-Lewiston, said “nobody loves this budget,” but predicted that members will end up voting for it. “I think we have the votes,” she said.

Meanwhile, there was plenty of budget posturing on both sides.

Republicans announced a new Web site to allow Maine citizens to express disapproval over the budget. The Maine Republican Party’s MaineVeto.com will allow citizens to be heard on what it called a “truly flawed blueprint” and let politicians know that “the people of Maine are watching,” party leader Barry Flynn said in a statement.

On the opposite side, numerous groups urged lawmakers to support and pass the budget during a State House press conference. The budget, they said, would be good for Maine.

Joan Churchill of Community Concepts in South Paris said the budget would help ensure that families of more than 1,000 vulnerable children reported to Child Protective Services would receive help they need.

Speaking for nursing homes, Rick Erb of the Maine Health Association said a modest, 2 percent cost-of-living increase will help to continue good care for 75 percent of patients who rely on MaineCare to stay in nursing homes.

Lawmakers are scheduled to get back to work Monday.


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