Maine legislators reach deal on budget plan

Posted May 19, 2009, at 11:13 a.m.

AUGUSTA, Maine — State budget negotiators settled on a $5.8 billion spending plan early Tuesday, agreeing to scrap a one-time pay cut for state workers and instead rely on government shutdown days to help save funds.

In backing away from the pay cut idea, legislative budget bargainers, with the support of Gov. John Baldacci, returned to a plan that would rely on 10 government shutdown days in each of the coming two years. Those shutdown days would save close to $14 million.

The revised package that extends through mid-2011 would also freeze merit pay and longevity pay for additional savings of close to $12 million more and introduce employee contributions for health insurance.

Baldacci, a second-term Democrat, issued a statement saying the Appropriations Committee’s unanimous rewrite of his original budget proposal “strikes the right balance.”

The package — designed to cover the remainder of fiscal 2009, which ends June 30, and the fiscal years 2010 and 2011 — now moves to the full House and Senate, where supermajorities of two-thirds or better are needed to make its provisions effective immediately.

“Under the best of circumstances, passing a state budget is a difficult undertaking. This year the task has been made even more challenging by a global recession and declining state revenues,” Baldacci said.

Leaders of the Democratic majorities in the Maine House and Senate said budget negotiators did their best to weigh the impact of difficult decisions in reaching compromises on spending reductions.

Senate President Elizabeth Mitchell credited the Appropriations Committee for involving the public. House Speaker Hannah Pingree praised the panel for concluding its work without hard feelings.

“This budget is austere and reflects the difficult times we face,” Pingree said in a statement. “I want to thank the members of the Appropriations Committee for keeping focused throughout this long process and for bringing it to a conclusion without acrimony — it was not an easy task.”

A Democratic analysis says the roughly $6 billion general fund budget package, designed to cover the current fiscal year and the two years beginning on July 1, would provide close to $2 billion for K-12 education and $1.6 billion for the state Department of Health and Human Services

The Democrats said the pending budget plan would draw on $409 million in economic stimulus money provided through the federal American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

Lawmakers originally took up a Baldacci plan to cover a $340 million gap between spending demands and anticipated revenue. When the state revenue picture darkened dramatically, Baldacci put forth an updated plan to cover an additional shortfall of $570 million.

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