AUGUSTA (AP) – Representatives waited into mid-evening Tuesday for debate on a $6.3 billion state budget plan to begin as final touches were made on a compromise amendment that could alter the two-year spending plan put before lawmakers.

The amendment addressed details of a portion of the budget that is regarded as critical to the whole package: a plan to consolidate Maine’s school systems. The plan calls for a reduction from the current 152 school administrative systems down to 80.

The amendment to be taken up at the start of the debate sought to address concerns by a bloc of lawmakers known as the Rural Caucus, who want to ease both the deadline for meeting the district consolidation requirements and penalties for not meeting them.

Initially, an amendment was to be introduced by Rep. David Farrington, D-Gorham. But Farrington agreed to withdraw his amendment in favor of a compromise amendment to be presented by Rep. Jeremy Fischer, a Presque Isle Democrat also co-chairs the Appropriations Committee, House majority aides said.

The budget package that was unanimously endorsed by the Appropriations Committee would book $36.5 million in savings. It sets forth a plan in which school system reorganization plans would be subject to local voter approval, with units voting against reorganization facing penalties as of July 1, 2009. The penalties could include a loss of minimum subsidies, an increase in required mill rates and less favorable consideration in approval and funding for school construction projects.


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