State cuts may slice jobs

Posted Oct. 28, 2008, at 9:17 p.m.

AUGUSTA, Maine — Hundreds of state jobs and some existing programs would be eliminated in order to meet Gov. John Baldacci’s goal of reducing state spending by at least 10 percent in the next two-year budget, documents indicate.

“We may have to do more,” Baldacci said in an interview. “We won’t know until revenues are reprojected.”

At Baldacci’s order, each state department was required to submit a plan to cut spending so as not to exceed expected revenues.

Among the proposed cuts:

    50 court employees.
    Eight to 10 courthouses.
    16 state prosecutors.
    80 faculty and staff positions within the community college system.
    30 community college programs and 1,800 students.
    24 state troopers, four detectives and 10 game wardens.

The governor said the proposals, outlined within a 2-inch-thick binder of memos, are only the agencies’ responses to his directive.

“This is not what agencies want to do,” said Finance Commissioner Ryan Low in an interview. “This is not what the governor is recommending; these are listing what needs to be done to meet the target. I certainly don’t think he will accept everything.”

He said it is likely the governor will ask many questions of agencies seeking to find additional cuts to make up for agencies that cannot meet their target amounts.

“DHHS [Department of Health and Human Services] is working on a two-step process,” Low said. “First, they have to find ways to self-fund the $200 million they said they needed in the original budget submission to keep current programs at current levels. Then they have to list how they reach their target of another $200 million in cuts.”

He said the agency will have to propose significant cuts to achieve its first round, let alone the total target of $400 million. He acknowledged complicating the DHHS budget is MaineCare, the state’s name for Medicaid, where every state dollar that is cut means an additional loss of about two federal dollars.

“Part of what they will provide is the economic impact of the loss of federal funds,” Low said. “There are other agencies that also will lose federal funds if we cut the state match.”

The Department of Education has proposed freezing general purpose aid to education at current levels for the next two budget years. That saves $170 million in the first year and $190 million in the second year of the budget.

Also, the agency is proposing $6.2 million in additional cuts with most of that amount saved by ending the Maine Educational Assessment tests and joining with other New England states in developing and administering a common assessment test.

In a memo to Low, court officials indicated that to reach their target of $11.9 million over two years they would have to close eight to 10 courthouses and keep 50 positions out of the 512 authorized positions unfilled.

In addition, they cautioned that reducing the number of courthouses and not filling staff will cost the state about $5 million a year in lost revenue.

The University of Maine System had not responded by Tuesday with a memo listing what impact cutting $20 million a year from the state’s annual $200 million appropriation would have on the system.

The community college system wrote that its $5.4 million a year cut target would mean the elimination of 30 programs and 80 faculty and staff positions. It also estimated it would have to serve 1,800 fewer students.

Scattered through the memos is the elimination of jobs, both filled and unfilled. Low’s own agency is not exempt with five positions cut in Maine Revenue Services.

The Department of Agriculture would cut two positions and shift, in part or totally, another 13 positions to dedicated funds.

Attorney General Steven Rowe wrote that to reach his office’s $3.3 million target, it would mean eliminating seven assistant attorney general positions and nine assistant district attorneys.

The Department of Corrections has a target of $32.5 million. In a letter to Low, Corrections Commissioner Martin Magnusson said that would mean a “downsizing and restructuring” of correctional facilities. He was blunt at a Corrections Board meeting last month.

“If we have to meet the target, we will have to close facilities,” he said.

The Department of Economic and Community Development would cut the Maine Technology Institute by $1.5 million over two years and eliminate the State Film Office.

Law enforcement activities also would be cut under the budget memos submitted to Low.

The Maine State Police would eliminate 24 trooper positions and four detectives. It also would abolish funding for special units including the canine teams, the underwater recovery team and would cut from 12 to six the number of crisis negotiators.

In addition, the Department of Marine Resources would lose three marine patrol officers and the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife would lose eight game wardens and two sergeants.

All of those agencies are also listing positions not involving law enforcement for elimination. Some are filled and would have to be layoffs.

Meanwhile, Low said, he is also looking at what spending may have to be curtailed to get through the current budget year. He expects when revenues are reforecast next month, the governor will decide to use his emergency powers to curtail spending until the Legislature can address this year’s budget in January.

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