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Maine Lawmakers Get Details on Governor's Curtailment Order
01/04/2013   Reported By: A.J. Higgins

Although the full Legislature will not officially convene until next week, lawmakers on the Appropriations Committee met today to begin their review of the LePage administration's $35.5 million curtailment order. The governor deemed the spending cuts necessary after a financial panel concluded that Maine will not take in enough tax revenue in the current fiscal year to keep its budget balanced. Leading members of the committee say prevailing economic conditions signal tough budget choices ahead for the state. A.J. Higgins has more.

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Maine Lawmakers Get Details on Governor's Curtailm
Originally Aired: 1/4/2013 5:30 PM

A veteran of many state budget battles, Sawin Millett told some of the new members of the Legislature's Approriations Committee that when state tax revenues fall short of expectations, curtailment orders have been a reliable balancing mechanism.

And as the governor's chief of finance, Millett says the state's chief executive has a constituional responsiblility to ensure that Maine has a balanced budget. "I can tell you that the previous four governors have used curtailment authority and in the most recent administration, on four ocassions: 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011," Millett says.

The governor's curtailment, or spending cut, proposal before the appropriations panel is only part of the work that lawmakers will be taking up in the next few weeks.

In addition to the $35.5 million curtailment for the current budget cycle than ends June 30th, Gov. Paul LePage must also come up with a plan to close a $100 million budget shortfall in the Department of Health and Human Services by the same date. And that's on top of a new two-year spending plan that will could be in the $6 billion range.

Under the curtailment order, More than two-thirds of the cuts would come from state aid to local schools districts, and social service and health programs at the Department of Health and Human Services. Sen. Peggy Rotundo, co-chair of the committee, says her panel will face significant challenges as it attempts to respond to the concerns of constituents affected by the cuts during an upcoming round of public hearings.

"There's always pressure on this committee, we know that we have difficult choices to make," Rotundo says. "We don't know what those choices are going to be yet, but we will roll up our sleeves, work together, listen to the public, be open minded, be thorough and, at the end the day, I have confidence that we will vote out of our committee a unanimous bipartisan budget that's fair and reasonable."

Among the cuts in DHHS is about $314,000 to the Office for Family Independence, which provides such services as child support, family emergency assistance and welfare. And there's also a $1.2 million reduction to the Bureau of Children with Special Needs and $1.4 million to foster care and adoption assistance, along with many other cuts.

The cuts to childrens' programs remains an issue of concern, not only for the governor's office but for legislators like Rep. Erik Jorgensen, a Portland Democrat.

"I'm very curious about the accounts labeled under 13901, the adoption services program that spread across three accounts - it looks like there's about a $3.3 million reduction in that area," Jorgensen says.

Republican legislative leaders tend to favor LePage's recommendations, but Rep. Kathleen Chase, of Wells, the lead Republican on the panel, says members of her party are committed to working with Democrats to address the state budget issues.

"We've got to have a balanced budget, we've got to be able to pay our bills and we've got to be able to provide for the future," Chase says. "I think those are things that Republicans are very good at, and we have to be realistic in how we deal with it."

Panel co-chair Rep. Peggy Rotundo says it's possible that the curtialment cuts will be rolled into the pending supplemental budget request. The budget revisions could reach the House floor by mid-February.


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