Maine budget eliminates 219 jobs

Posted Jan. 09, 2009, at 1:58 p.m.

AUGUSTA, Maine — Gov. John Baldacci on Friday unveiled an historically austere two-year state budget that includes plenty of pain for everyone.

The $6.1 billion state spending package proposes deep cuts to address an $838 million shortfall due to the recession and increased cost of providing services. It would eliminate 219 state positions, requiring 139 layoffs, trim some state tax rebate programs, transfer many inmates to privately run prisons and reduce public funding of gubernatorial campaigns.

“We are in the midst of a national crisis, the likes of which have not been seen in a generation,” Baldacci said in remarks prepared for his State House presentation. “Our country is mired in a recession. We are all called upon to do our part to get through this difficult time.”

The spending package for the budget period starting July 1 is so tight its bottom line is $200 million smaller than the current $6.3 billion budget, Baldacci said. It’s the first time that’s happened at least since 1974, according to state records.

Despite the depth of the cuts, Baldacci said he took great care to protect core government functions such as police emergency services, and vulnerable populations including children, elderly and disabled. Much of the budget carries through reductions the governor has already proposed in a revision to the current year’s spending package.

While calling for a 2.4 percent reduction in higher education funding, the budget leaves K-12 public school funding near its present level. It does not call for increases in sales or income taxes, but seeks $4.1 million from increased fees charged by the departments of Conservation, Marine Resources, and Inland Fisheries and Wildlife.

Baldacci said there will be temptations to raise broad-based taxes, but this is not the time to do it because the economy is already putting Mainers under financial strain.

While continuing a state hiring freeze, it asks some state employees to pick up more of their health insurance. The budget factors in what Baldacci called conservative estimates of anticipated federal funding for MaineCare, Maine’s Medicaid program.

No reduction is proposed in the ranks of state troopers, game wardens or Marine Patrol Officers. The budget seeks new money for childhood immunization and preparation for a possible pan flu epidemic, and maintains the Red Tide monitoring program.

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