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Maine Gov Again Refuses to Submit Supplemental Budget
02/07/2014   Reported By: A.J. Higgins

The Maine Legislature is hoping to adjourn by the middle of April. But an ongoing standoff with Gov. Paul LePage over the state budget could push the session later. The governor's finance chief has confirmed to the Appropriations Committee that the governor does not intend to submit a plan to solve a budget shortfall, and is leaving it up to lawmaker to find about $9 million in savings by April 1, in order to avoid having some state workers go unpaid. A.J. Higgins reports.

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Democratic Sen. Dawn Hill of Cape Neddick says she's never felt so constrained as she does right now, trying to deal with the LePage administration over a budget shortfall of more than $160 million.

"He's keeping blinders on us," Hill says. "The governor's failure to put forth a supplemental budget is unprecedented."

Hill is Senate chair of the Appropriations Committee, which has been told by state finance chief Sawin Millett that the state faces a $65 million shortfall by the end of the current fiscal year on June 30, and that there is also a $101 million deficit in the second part of the budget cycle that begins July 1.

Hill says the problems are complicated by the fact that her committee has to accept the governor's version of the current fiscal conditions in various state departments.

"He's basically kicking it over to us," Hill says, "and he's saying, 'Figure it out: Here's a $200 million hole, here's, maybe, $50 million in revenue - and, by the way, you can talk to one or two people in my administration if you need some information."

Ever since Republicans in Augusta accepted a compromise budget plan with Democrats last fall, LePage has vowed to wash his hands of any shortfalls that it created, place the burden solely on the Legislature. Although department heads will still meet with the Appropriations Committee, Millett made it clear to the committee on Thursday that the administration has assigned him to be the governor's point man on the budget.

"It helps to have a single source of information that we can vet, make sure the right numbers are there and the right justification statements are there and the 'blippies' are well done," Millett said. "I think, from our point of view, wouldn't it be easier if you copied us on any requests for information so we can work with the agency and get it back to you in a quality format so that it's all coordinated?"

But Millett also delivered another message from the LePage administration to the committee: The loss of federal funding at Riverview Psychiatric Center due to noncompliance with federal safety standards has created a new $8.5 million hole in the budget, a portion of which has to be fixed within the next two months.

"Given the certification concern, we're advancing payrolls now from fourth quarter monies being transferred into the third quarter, and we will soon reach a point of not being able to make payroll if April 1st comes and goes and we don't have legislation in place to do that," Millett said.

Hill says lawmakers will advance a bill to balance the budget if the governor continues to remain on the sidelines of the process. But she declined to specify when that would happen.


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