Maine lawmakers prepare for final budget vote

Posted May 26, 2009, at 3:52 p.m.

AUGUSTA, Maine — More than 150 state workers upset over pay freezes and furlough days included in a proposed $5.8 billion two-year state spending plan crowded a State House hallway and chanted in protest as lawmakers moved closer to a final vote.

Debate was expected to begin as early as Tuesday afternoon in the House. The Senate is expected to take it up Wednesday.

Members of the Maine State Employees Association gathered outside a meeting room where House Democrats met to discuss a range of issues that were expected to come up during their debate.

They chanted slogans including, “We are the union, the mighty, mighty, union,” and sang verses from the Twisted Sister rock song, “We’re Not Gonna Take It.”

The budget, a rewrite of Democratic Gov. John Baldacci’s original proposal that the bipartisan Appropriations Committee has endorsed, includes deep cuts in state programs and services. It includes provisions for 10 payless shutdown days for state employees in each of the coming two years that are estimated to save around $14 million.

The spending plan, which covers the two-year period starting July 1 and ending June 30, 2011, also would freeze merit and longevity pay for additional savings of close to $12 million. It also would have state workers begin making contributions toward their health insurance.

Members of the union, which represents 15,000 workers, claim they are targeted for an inordinate share of the cuts.

“We’re very unhappy with these cuts,” MSEA President Bruce Hodsdon told the lunchtime demonstrators, most of whom wore purple T-shirts bearing the name of the MSEA’s affiliate, the Service Employees International Union. “We’re the ones hurt most by these cuts.”

In addition to slashing state services, the proposed budget empties the state’s rainy day fund and other contingency accounts, which total $115 million.

Two-thirds of members of both the House and the Senate need to approve the budget before it can be enacted.

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