LePage advisers inch closer toward budget

Posted Dec. 10, 2010, at 11:15 p.m.

BY GLENN ADAMS

AUGUSTA, Maine — Gov.-elect Paul LePage’s budget advisers are inching their way toward a two-year state budget plan as they face tough time constraints and a huge revenue shortfall, leaders of his transition team said Friday.

But they are making progress, and the shortfall — at one time estimated at $1.2 billion, or about 20 percent of the total budget — may not be that high after all, they said.

“We’re getting down to a level that will get us close to our revenues,” budget working group leader Sawin Millett said. “I think we’re starting to see some signs of growth.”

Millett acknowledged that a shortfall in the $800 million-$900 million range wouldn’t be far off, but cautioned, “The number does change on a daily basis.”

In a briefing with reporters, transition co-chairman Tarren Bragdon said the advisers are working on “an aggressive timeline” to meet a late-January deadline to finish its work on the spending package so it can be printed and made available publicly by early February. The budget plan will cover the two years starting July 1, 2011, and will have to be approved by the Legislature.

Complicating matters is the working group’s charge to submit revisions to the current year’s budget by mid-January, which the Republican-controlled Legislature also must approve.

But the real focus is on the coming two-year budget, which is expected to reflect major changes in state policy as articulated by LePage during the conservative Republican’s campaign. LePage wants a budget that’s friendly to job creation, offers tax relief, eases the state’s long-term debt and makes state government more affordable.

Budget advisers are looking at 150 savings initiatives submitted by lawmakers, the public and the advisers themselves, said Bragdon. Neither he nor Millett was specific on what those were, but some themes emerged, such as identifying “core state functions” that merit funding and targeting funds in social programs to the truly needy.

Millett also noted that the governor-elect wants to continue a state government hiring freeze Democratic Gov. John Baldacci put in place but not continue furlough days.

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