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LePage Budget Contains Some Spending Hikes
01/15/2013   Reported By: Jay Field

Maine's chief executive has proposed some tough budget cuts in recent years in an effort to balance Maine's books. But despite his reputation for fiscal austerity, Gov. Paul LePage's proposed supplemental and biennial budgets do promise some targeted spending increases on mental health, foster care support, international trade, education and other areas. Jay Field has this look at the governor's spending priorities.

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LePage Budget Contains Some Spending Hikes
Originally Aired: 1/15/2013 5:30 PM

The Maine Department of Health and Human Services, as was the case in last year's supplemental, is on the receiving end of some serious proposed cuts. But this is a story about where the administration wants to spend money. And the Department of Health and Human Services would also see targeted increases, along with the reductions.

"In child welfare we have need for additional funding to support the number of children who are coming into our care," says Health and Human Services Commissioner Mary Mayhew.  Mayhew says the state has seen a 25 percent increase in children in foster care.

"It's incredibly important that, as we budget, that we are aligning critical resources to the core mission of the department and key priorities," she says. "And we have requested $12.6 million over three years to account for that increase and cover those costs."

Mayhew says another area getting attention and dollars at the department is home- and community-based services for Mainers with autism and developmental disabilities.

"We need to be fulfilling the needs and services for these individuals with developmental and intellectual disabilities," she says. "There are over 1,100 individuals on two different waiver waitlists."

Under its biennial budget, which covers the next two years, the LePage administration proposes spending $7.7 million in this area - enough to get 85 people off the waitlist for services. Over at the Education Department, overall funding in the proposed two-year budget is flat, "for which we're thankful," says the department's communications director David Connerty Marin, "even though we know it will be a challenge for districts."

"You know, when we have a limited amount of funding we, increasingly, are looking at, 'How can we use that money most effectively to support districts in the work they're doing?'" Connerty Marin says.

Right now, for example, Maine is working with the federal government on an accountability waiver - essentially a more rigorous system for holding schools responsible for their performance. The biennial budget proposes spending $3 million to set up an office of school accountability and support at the Education Department.

A large chunk of the money, says Connerty Marin, will be turned around and sent out to the districts to pay for training and technical support. "We have $2.5 million each year to support the work on teacher and principal evaluation systems. Those are actually required by state law and as part of the state's federal accountability waiver, which we are anticipating approval on soon."

The budget proposes spending another $4 million to help districts implement the proficiency-based diploma and just over $1 million to serve 5,000 more students in the Jobs for Maine Graduates Program.

Maine has seen exports to foreign countries grow 89 percent over the past decade. So the Maine International Trade Center would get additional funding to do more overseas recruitment trips, like the one Gov. LePage took to China last year. 


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