AUGUSTA (AP) – Committee discussions among Democrats and Republicans over human services cutbacks continued Tuesday, as did communications between the administration of Gov. John Baldacci and his restive Democratic legislative allies, as budget deliberations neared a crucial point.

Senate President Beth Edmonds, D-Freeport, responded “yes, please” when asked if an Appropriations Committee package to cover a $190-million revenue shortfall could be ready soon. In a move that appeared to spur deliberations even as it heightened tensions, the governor had his budget team undertake a procedural step that would prepare the way for the imposition of a second gubernatorial curtailment order in three months designed to slow state spending.

Following guidelines outlined in state law, Commissioner Rebecca Wyke of the Department of Administrative and Financial Services formally wrote to the governor that “anticipated income and other available funds of the state will not be sufficient to meet expenditures authorized by the Legislature” for fiscal 20008.

Officials noted that a curtailment order would be a temporary way to reduce the rate of state spending until a supplemental budget is passed.

Baldacci issued a $38 million curtailment order on Dec. 18, 2007. The amount of the new curtailment, effective April 1 in advance of the June 30 end of fiscal 2008, would be $27 million.

“Time is short and we must have a plan for slowing state spending in place before April 1,” Baldacci said in a statement Monday night. “As we get closer to the end of the year, it becomes much more difficult to make the necessary cuts.”

Baldacci’s statement late Monday drew a curt response from House Speaker Glenn Cummings, D-Portland.

“The Appropriations Committee and Democratic leaders have been working day and night, and tremendous bipartisan progress has been made to balance the budget. The governor takes his responsibilities very seriously, as do we. We are committed to finishing our work on time and by March 31, so that further curtailments will not be necessary,” the speaker’s statement said.

Edmonds also said Tuesday lawmakers want to have a revised budget in place by April 1 to avoid a curtailment order, which she suggested would be a blunter method for coping with a looming shortfall than a more fully tailored plan worked out with the Legislature.

“He’s got this big picture and we’ve got a more narrow picture. And both of these views are valid,” Edmonds said.

Administration officials said that to cover the $190 million gap, about $65 million is needed in fiscal year 2008 and $125 million in fiscal year 2009.

If the new changes being proposed were enacted, General Fund spending would decrease by $60 million in 2009 from 2008 levels, the administration has said.

AP-ES-03-18-08 1635EDT


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