AUGUSTA, Maine — Maine’s share of the federal economic stimulus package will be about $900 million, but the figure is preliminary, state Finance Commissioner Ryan Low told lawmakers Friday.
Low called the $900 million figure a “ballpark estimate” of Maine’s share of the $787 billion economic stimulus package as he addressed the Appropriations Committee. Low said the federal government has already determined how a large share of the funding will be used, with chunks allocated to areas such as tax cuts, added unemployment benefits and education.
“The vast majority of these funds are going for very specific purposes,” said the commissioner, who heads the Department of Administrative and Financial Services and serves as state coordinator for managing the stimulus money.
Low also advised lawmakers not to look at stimulus funding as an easy way to balance the state’s proposed $6.1 billion budget, which faces an $838 million shortfall for the two-year cycle starting July 1.
“It’s important to recognize this is not a fix-all for the general fund budget,” he told the committee during a two-hour session in which he focused mostly on the process through which the money is to be distributed. “There’s a very high level of expectation these funds are going to solve all of our problems.”
Gov. John Baldacci, who also warned against viewing the stimulus money as a cure-all, has included nearly $99 million in anticipated Medicare funding in his two-year budget. Baldacci also has launched a Web site, linked to his home page, so Mainers can track the status of the stimulus money.
Baldacci planned to leave Maine Saturday to attend the 2009 National Governors Association winter conference in Washington. The three-day conference is to cover topics including infrastructure needs, renewable energy development, transportation and foreclosures.
“With the backdrop of the international economic crisis and the administration of the federal stimulus funds, states are under tremendous pressure,” Baldacci said.
However, some Republican governors have expressed concern that the stimulus money would come with too many strings attached, and some have said they might decline it. In Maine, Low said the administration was moving forward to make sure all requirements are met to accept money earmarked for the state — and any funds that may be reallocated if other states don’t accept theirs.
“We want to make sure we’re right there at the head of the line,” said Low.
Lawmakers have expressed strong interest in monitoring the use of stimulus money destined for Maine. The Legislature on Thursday passed a bill requiring review of all energy-related expenditures included in the stimulus act by a special committee created earlier this year to deal exclusively with energy issues.
The stimulus Web site: www.maine.gov/recovery