Lawmakers, a baker’s dozen of them, worked the night shift Sunday hoping to finish a spending plan before Wednesday’s legislative adjournment deadline.

“We’ll keep going until it’s done,” vowed state Sen. Peggy Rotundo, D-Lewiston, at 10:30 Sunday night.

Rotundo is Senate chairwoman of the Appropriations Committee, the panel that’s putting in the overtime.

At issue: roughly $250 million. The money had been earmarked as part of the $5.7 billion two-year budget approved earlier in the legislative session. To raise it without raising taxes means borrowing, however, and that’s become a stumbling block.

Republicans are challenging any borrowing proposed by Democrats, and the GOP has joined forces with Gov. John Baldacci in opposing any major tax increases.

That means the Appropriations Committee needs to find a way to whack the $250 million – or otherwise offset it – in order to balance state spending.

Committee members had labored to midnight Saturday before returning to job at 4 p.m. Sunday. Panelists first met privately for nearly two hours before resuming their public deliberations.

Democrats hold a slight edge over minority Republicans on the committee.

But in an effort to keep the budget-cutting nonpartisan, suggestions listed by both sides were combined. Committee members said they hoped that move would make it easier to reach a bipartisan accord on what to cut and where the money would come from.

One thing’s for sure: Anything and everything is supposed to be on the table.

“There are no sacred cows,” Rotundo said on Saturday.

“Difficult, philosophical issues” faced the committee members, Rotundo said then. They include potentially paring money earmarked for health-care programs aimed at serving some of the state’s neediest people as well as raises promised to some state employees.

By late Sunday, the panel had yet to make final any of the cuts, although Rotundo said some consensus seemed to be taking hold in some areas.

Pending final panel action, she declined to specify which programs were to be axed.

Nearly $40 million in proposed state spending has already been pared by the committee in its efforts to balance the state’s budget.

Another $50 million could be raised by adding 75 cents to the $1 tax already in place on cigarettes, but that’s about the only broad tax seen as politically acceptable to most players.

In all, the $250 million has to be eliminated or covered by tax increases before the committee can advance a plan to the full House and Senate.


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