It will be "all Bush's fault". I can hear it now.
AUGUSTABudget panelists unite behind two-year spending plan
By FRANCIS X. QUINNAssociated Press Writer
Legislative budget writers, working into the early morning hours, reached unanimous agreement Saturday on a reworked version of a $5.3 billion current services package for state government.
With bipartisan backing, prospects are high for passage of the budget bill by the full Legislature later this week.
The accord effectively ratifies the basics of Gov. John Baldacci’s two-year spending plan, which includes no broad-based tax increases and is designed to offset a $1 billion gap between spending demands and anticipated revenue over the upcoming biennium.
Baldacci congratulated Appropriations Committee members for their achievement immediately after their final vote, which came at about 2:35 a.m.
“Great job,” the Democratic chief executive said as he shook hands with weary bargainers who concluded days of review and negotiation in a customarily exhausting marathon session watched by a familiar clutch of lobbyists, advocates and state agency fiscal experts.
Committee members adjusted but stuck by the intent of two pillars of the Baldacci proposal to balance revenue with expenditures in fiscal years 2004 and 2005.
To his $100 million initiative to privatize the state’s wholesale liquor business, they added an amendment stipulating that any mechanism to transfer the right to operate the business not extend more than a decade.
Any renewal would be subject to legislative approval, and the state would not cede its authority “to collect the alcohol premium tax, sales taxes or income taxes arising from the sale of distilled spirits and fortified wines,” the amendment said.
And in holding with Baldacci’s aim to generate savings by slowing the drive to lower the state’s $2.6 billion unfunded pension liability, the committee approved a reduction in commitments of nearly $125 million over the biennium.
BY OPTIMISTICALLY ANTICIPATING A RESUMPTION OF LARGER PAYMENTS IN SUBSEQUENT years, lawmakers were able to reduce the estimated long-term increase in the unfunded liability from more than $2 billion in the governor’s original plan to about $109 million over a 16-year period.
To overcome one potential obstacle to unanimity, majority Democrats allayed Republican concerns by advancing from January 2004 to July 2003 the date by which the governor must begin to curtail $48 million in expenditures unless another method is found to bridge that revenue gap.
A partisan split that surprised neither side resulted in an 8-5 Democratic refusal to set aside $1 million to finance a new Office of Program Evaluation and Accountability that had been promoted within the House GOP rank-and-file.
In a setback for Baldacci, bipartisan reservations on the committee prompted the administration to scrap a bid to include in the budget some legislative provisions to establish a network of business development zones.
Baldacci has energetically championed the creation of Pine Tree Development Zones that would offer special benefits to new or expanded businesses in targeted areas around the state.
The measure won support from the Legislature’s Business, Research and Economic Development Committee in short order on Friday and Baldacci moved immediately to have it folded into the budget package.
But some Appropriations panelists balked, suggesting that more scrutiny was needed, and after a brief recess in the committee’s final public session Baldacci budget chief Rebecca Wyke withdrew the item.
The final hours of discussion produced numerous budget revisions.
In the immediate aftermath of an emotional State House rally by advocates for mental health services, the committee approved $2 million in additional funding that would be produced by a recalculation of state bond issues.
Addressing one of the most divisive topics in state government, negotiators set local school aid at about $732 million for fiscal 2004 and about $726 million for fiscal 2005.
Meanwhile, the panel signed off on temporary $3 hikes on almost all state fish-and-game fees. Members agreed to temporary assessments for ATV registrations of $13 for residents and $30 for nonresidents.
The outcome was the Appropriations panel’s second major success this session in reaching consensus.
In early February, Appropriations members without dissent endorsed a supplemental budget package designed to offset a $44 million revenue shortfall through June, clearing the way for its enactment by the House and Senate.
“I kept telling people we had a good committee,” the panel’s Senate chairwoman, Democrat Mary Cathcart of Orono, said Saturday.
Democratic House Speaker Patrick Colwell also emphasized the two-party alliance on the budget in his early morning comments.
“I think it’s a real triumph of bipartisanship,” the Gardiner lawmaker said. “With everybody working together, you can do what everybody says you can’t do.”
Senate Minority Leader Paul Davis, R-Sangerville, said the parties’ shared resistance to broad-based tax increases help to foster the accord.
“In these hard times, it’s a budget that reflects them,” Davis said. “There’s some reductions that have to be made.”
Do you believe in magic?
At least they didn't say "A compromise that will stand the test of time" like the idiot said last year.There are no fundemental changes, we are still in the same mess we have been in. Another bandaid, another straw for a dying state.
Does this budget solve any of problems that got us into this mess? Is this budget going to make for a better business climate?This gets them out of trouble for now, but if some long term solutions aren't found it's only going to get worse.
Doug,They didnt take any of your budget cutting ideas. They are using the sale of the liquor stores to fund ongoing activities. They increased fees on hunters. They didnt eliminate enough jobs and didnt restructure government. We will have this problem rear its ugly head in less than a year.