AUGUSTA – Democratic legislators Tuesday blasted a Republican think tank’s recommendations on how the budget should be cut, saying it would “paint a bleak picture” for Maine.

State House Republicans blasted back, calling it “outrageous” for Democrats to link the Maine Heritage Policy Center’s recommendations to theirs. GOP legislators said they do agree with much of the center’s philosophy, but they do not back all of its budget recommendations.

If the GOP Maine Heritage Policy Center had its way, Democrats said, changes in Maine would include:

• State-owned parks and boat launches – such as Reid State Park – would be sold.

• A number of facilities the state runs – the Maine State Prison, the Maine State Museum and the state library – would be outsourced.

• About half of Maine’s school districts would be consolidated.

• Less health care would be available for Maine’s elderly, disabled and children.

Dirigo Health would be dismantled, stopping coverage being purchased by thousands of Mainers and hundreds of small businesses.

“This report would eliminate Dirigo and reduce health care for everybody else, in particular the elderly, children and the disabled,” said Senate Majority Leader Michael Brennan, D-Portland.

Mainers don’t want their prisons, Reid State Park, museums or libraries outsourced, said House Majority Leader Glenn Cummings. He added that State House Republicans “have not come forth with a plan,” he said. “Their answer is delay, delay, delay.”

So when the Republican think tank’s budget report surfaced March 24 at the State House – handed out by Republican legislators, according to Democrats – “We said ‘thank you.’ … You have told us the devastating cuts, the irresponsible, devastation that would be in an alternative budget,” Cummings said.

Republicans responded that the think tank’s recommendations are not their own. The Heritage Policy Center’s report has good ideas, said Rep. Darlene Curley, R-Scarborough, “but it in no way represents my views or most of the views of our caucus.”

House Minority Assistant Leader Josh Tardy, R-Newport, said he agrees with the group’s broad points that government is too big and structural cuts need to happen.

But as to the specific recommended cuts from the think tank, “some I agree with, many I have a problem with,” he said. Tardy disagreed with the recommendation to consolidate the state’s school districts into half the current number.

“But to think we shouldn’t consider all ideas in this fiscal crisis is irresponsible,” he said. “Democrats who own this budget are panicking because they know it’s a horrible document.”

When asked how Republican lawmakers would cut the budget, Curley and Tardy said they want the budget to be brought back to the table, and that Republicans “would absolutely look at reducing the state work force through attrition, a hiring freeze,” Tardy said. “We’d stop expansion in the Medicaid programs,” including one expansion of Dirigo Health scheduled to begin April 1. “We would not put anyone new on the rolls until we can keep promises we’ve already made,” Curley said.


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