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Maine's Own 'Sequestration' Process Gets Underway
07/24/2013   Reported By: Mal Leary

Maine is embarking on its own version of the sequestration process. That's because budget language requires the Governor's Office of Policy and Management to find nearly $34 million in budget reductions over the next two years. As Mal Leary reports, some reductions will happen in a matter of weeks, while others will require legislative approval.

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The budget language directs the Governor's Office of Policy and Management to find cuts totaling $11,250,000 in this fiscal year, which started July 1. OPM Director Richard Rosen says his office is looking at administrative ways to achieve that goal, such as limiting travel, delaying capital purchases, slowing the replacement of state workers that retire or leave, and reviews of service contracts.

"We're instructed to use internal mechanisms - so administrative tools, executive authority, that type of thing," Rosen says. "We cannot go to the Legislature or look for statutory changes, so we are rather limited there in terms of the tools to collect the $11-plus million and achieve the savings."

Rosen says within the state's total yearly budget of more than $3 billion, administrative cuts can be found this fiscal year that won't have a significant impact on services that state agencies provide.

He acknowledges, though, that the second part of the process - finding $22.5 million in cuts for the second year of the budget - will be more difficult, and will need legislative approval. Off limits are some spending areas like debt service and state payments to the retirement system. That, Rosen says, narrows the options.

"So, you ask the question, 'All right, there is an existing program - let's take a look. Has it been effective? Has it lived up to, to the original promise? Are there measures already in place and are they achieving the goals?' Sometimes there are no measures in place and sometimes, occasionally, there are, and we will be looking at whether it is delivering what it should."

Unlike some past spending reduction efforts, this budget law allows the governor to curtail state spending to meet the goal if lawmakers reject the OPM proposal and fail to come up with an alternative. Lewiston Democrat Peggy Rotundo is the House co-chair of the Legislature's budget-writing Appropriations Committee. She's optimistic that OPM can find proposals that will both save money and get legislative support.

"This is not work that is going to be done by a committee of legislators, as has been done in recent history," Rotundo says, "but rather, an office of professionals who will have the time to do more thoughtful work about structural change."

Rotundo says previous efforts at streamlining government have been too rushed to take a hard ook at the way state agencies are providing services, and whether those services could be provided more effectively and for less money. She expects the OPM report to include such structural changes in its report.

So does Sen. Patrick Flood, a Republican from Winthrop - the only GOP senator on the Appropriations Committee. Flood says the charge given OPM will be difficult, and the results controversial.

"Any time you are targeting some $20 million in function and structure changes, it is going to be stressful, going to be difficult," he says. "I have to believe, and have confidence that Director Rosen and his staff will find that. He will bring that to us, and if we don't take legislative action on his proposals than we then leave that to the governor to curtail. And I don't think we want to do that."

And unlike past legislative efforts to find ways to reduce state spending, both the short- and long-term plans will be developed with little public comment. Rosen will provide an update on the proposals when the Appropriations Committee meets in September, and again before lawmakers re-convene in January.

Rotundo and Flood say the proposals will get their public airing when the Appropriations Committee holds hearings on them next session.


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