Balancing the Budget

By State Senator Bill Diamond

In addition to preparing a balanced budget for the next two years (the “biennial budget”), the Maine Legislature’s Appropriations Committee is also responsible for keeping the current budget in balance.

Conditions and assumption change over a two-year period, and periodic adjustments need to be made. This past week, they completed one of those adjustments, called a “supplemental budget,” and voted it out of committee unanimously.

This time they had to close a hole of $61.7 million, and I was very pleased with the result. While the committee accepted many of Governor Paul LePage’s proposals for dealing with this problem, the result differed from it in a few key areas. Specifically, he proposed taking some of the money from an Accident and Health Insurance Fund for firefighters and law enforcement personnel and the Fund for a Healthy Maine. The Appropriations Committee’s recommendation avoids both of these, relying instead on using funds from a variety of savings from across state government.

There are several reasons why the action of the Appropriations Committee gives me hope for the future. First is the way that both parties were able to work together so quickly and so smoothly to prepare this budget. In a time when there is still gridlock in Washington and many experts were predicting the same would happen here in Maine, Democrats and Republicans compromised and acted together for the good of the state.

Second, it was a unanimous recommendation. The leaders on the committee were able to not only bring the majority of the members together, but all of them, from across the political spectrum. This will be a great help when the supplemental budget goes before the whole legislature for approval.

Finally, the budget they developed was very much their creation. True, they did accept a majority of Governor LePage’s proposal, but not all. They showed they had the ability to be creative and avoid some of the original document’s most troublesome elements.

While much remains to be done on the budget for the next two years, I am optimistic that this committee can perform the same sort of feat in that case as well. On the retirement system question, for example, (the item I hear the most about from my constituents) I have spoken with members of both parties on the Appropriations Committee, and while no final decisions have yet been made, there seems to be a consensus that it is not fair to make substantial changes for people that are close to retirement or who have already retired. They feel that while changes are more likely for those who still have time in their careers to adapt to new rules, they don’t want to put together something that will have a drastic effect on people who cannot respond to them.

The Appropriations Committee hopes to have the biennial budget prepared by the middle of May, and I’ll do my best to keep you informed of the progress.

In the meantime, if you have questions about any legislation or have any problems with the state, please call my office at the State House at 287-1515 or visit my website, to send me an e-mail.

Senator Bill Diamond is a resident of Windham, and serves the District 12 communities of Casco, Frye Island, Raymond, Standish, Windham and Hollis.

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