LePage administration proposes nearly $34 million in new cuts to balance state budget

Gov. Paul LePage
Gov. Paul LePage
Posted Oct. 01, 2013, at 7:20 p.m.

AUGUSTA, Maine — Maine schools and municipalities, as well as a range of other programs across state government including a childhood immunization program, will bear the brunt of more than $33 million in new cuts recommended on Monday by the LePage administration.

Three months of work to propose the cuts to the state budget this year and next culminated late Monday in the delivery of a report to the Legislature by LePage’s new Office of Policy and Management. Former Republican Sen. Richard Rosen of Bucksport, who leads the office along with former Attorney General William Schneider and state economist Amanda Rector, is scheduled to formally present the 115-page report — which also includes more than 70 pages of appendices — to the Legislature’s Appropriations Committee on Wednesday.

Many of the initiatives are measures that have been attempted before but failed to gain legislative approval.

The proposed spending reductions are the result of language in the biennial budget bill enacted in June that calls for the Office of Policy and Management to find $33,750,000 in cuts in the course of the biennium that ends on June 30, 2015.

The report’s recommended cuts include reduced overtime and lower payments to county jails within the Department of Corrections, cuts to state funding for public schools, a nearly $450,000 reduction in the state’s share of Head Start programs and a $1 million elimination of funding for childhood immunizations.

The document was posted on the Office of Police and Management’s website Monday afternoon, the report’s due date. It outlines nearly $11.3 million in cuts in the current fiscal year that can be accomplished without legislative approval. Many of the $24 million in cuts recommended for fiscal year 2015 can also be implemented by the administration, although some of the cuts and policy adjustments will require vetting by the Legislature.

Among the cuts proposed in Rosen’s report were the following:

• The report recommends closure of the Maine Revenue Services’ Houlton office, which has already happened, for more than $1 million in savings over the biennium.

• In the Department of Education, the report recommends cutting almost $9.6 million in administrative expenses within the Essential Programs and Services model. That figure is based on a goal of reducing administrative costs to an average of $222 per pupil, though school units with administrative costs of less than $230 per pupil and schools with fewer than 500 students would be exempt.

• In the Department of Corrections, the report recommends saving $1.1 million by reducing overtime; cutting the Prisoner Boarding Account, which supports DOC inmates held in county jails, for a savings of $800,000; changing regulations so that prisoners with 18 months left on their sentences, as opposed to the current limit of 12 months, can participate in work-release programs, which will generate an additional $85,000 in revenue; and privatizing the DOC’s kitchen staff, which would save $374,000.

• In the Department of Health and Human Services, the report calls for improved management of outside contracts, which could save as much as $3 million; a $1 million reduction in spending on childhood immunizations; a $500,000 cut to the Public Health Nursing Program and the Maine Families Home Visiting Program; and elimination of the state’s share of support for Head Start, which would save almost $450,000. The report also calls for reducing the state’s support of municipally administered General Assistance programs by $1.2 million.

• Throughout state government, the report calls for the elimination of 97 positions for a savings of $2.8 million, though only 12 of those positions are currently filled. Hardest hit would be the Department of Health and Human Services, 38 positions; the Department of Corrections, 15.5 positions; the Department of Administrative and Financial Services, 10 positions; the Legislature, 6.5 staff positions; and the Department of Transportation, 6.5 positions.

Although it says the savings would be “negligible,” the report also recommends eliminating more than a dozen inactive state boards and commissions.

The Office of Policy Management, a LePage initiative, was created in 2012 and assumed some of the responsibilities of the State Planning Office, which was eliminated in 2012 as part of a supplemental budget package. The office reviews state agency budgets, evaluates the effectiveness of state programs and compiles economic data.

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