AUGUSTA – As Tuesday became Wednesday, 151 members of the House of Representatives were still debating the state budget.

At midnight, House members had not yet voted on the $5.8 billion, two-year state budget. Democrats had rejected a string of Republican amendments, with some votes extremely close, such as a 76-75 vote against mandating that voters approve borrowing to close the budget.

Other rejected amendments included a “continuing resolution” to postpone budget decisions by several months, and another not to tax private vacation property rentals.

But other Republican amendments enjoyed success, demonstrating that all Democrats weren’t behind every aspect of their party’s budget.

One amendment that the House approved yanked tougher seat belt laws from the budget, which means failure to wear a seat belt is not a primary offense. Another amendment rejected hiring new Senate staffers.

As the debate began just before 9:30 p.m., the Appropriations Committee Co-chairman Rep. Joseph Brannigan, D-Portland, explained that some controversial aspects had been taken out of the budget, such as $10 fees on sailboats, canoes and kayaks. The Democrats’ budget also increased the amount of money schools would be paid to accept students from unorganized territories.

The budget would close a $773 million deficit in part by flat-funding many programs and by borrowing $447 million. That loan will be used to pay bills, pay down the state’s retirement debt, and provide $250 million for local education and property tax relief.

Rep. Sawin Millett, R-Waterford, argued against the budget, complaining it’s not appropriate to borrow to pay ongoing bills and put money in the state’s savings account.

Democrat Rep. Jeremy Fischer, D-Presque Isle, countered that Republican budget solutions are void of any ideas. Republicans have only one idea: to postpone tough decisions.

The harshest criticism of the Democratic budget came not from Republicans but from Rep. Joanne Twomey, D-Biddeford, who blasted Gov. John Baldacci and Democrats for borrowing, and for not having “the courage” to raise taxes.

Yelling and banging her fist on her desk, Twomey said it was a “bad budget” and that “we need to raise taxes.” The mentally ill are going without housing, meat inspectors are being cut, and the poor aren’t getting needed help, she said. “This party used to be the party of the people,” Twomey said. Democrats “are carrying the water for those afraid to speak the truth to power.”

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