The Next Steps on the Budget

By Bill Diamond

This week, the governor announced his latest effort to keep the budget in balance. While the last one only looked at the current fiscal year and only at the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), this one looks at the rest of the state government and goes through then end of FY 13 (June 30, 2013).

Some of the major items in the budget are:

Cuts:

• Eliminating all state funding for Maine Public Broadcasting — $1.7 million.

• 1% cut to Maine Higher Education — $2.4 million.

• Cut 91 positions (45 vacant) at Dorothea Dix Psychiatric Center in Bangor — $2.5 million.

• Fund for a Healthy Maine — $4.2 million.

• Cut to General Assistance — funds for towns and cities.

Additional spending (including tax cuts):

• Restructure funding at DHHS — $31.6 million.

• Tax cut for retirees — $28 million (these take effect in 2014).

• Disaster Funding Assistance — $700,000.

• Computer Crimes Unit — $362,000.

I am personally very gratified to see funding for the additional positions in the Computer Crimes Unit. This was the heart of my bill, LD 1731, and it will go a long way toward rescuing kids who are victims of sexual assault online.

The budget does raise some concerns, however. The open-ended nature of the cuts to General Assistance is troubling. This is the last resource for people who are truly desperate, and it is administered by the municipalities. This could result in additional local property tax burdens on already strapped communities. I also feel that higher education is the basis for building our future and these institutions have already taken some considerable cuts recently.

The proposal to cut taxes on pension income for retirees is also interesting. This is a group who are, by and large, living on fixed incomes, and some tax savings should be passed along to them. This is especially true for retired teachers and state employees, who saw some erosion of their retirement benefits in last year’s budget.

Hearings on this budget will be held on the afternoons of March 20-22 before the Appropriations Committee if you’d like to comment on it. You can always reach me at my office at the State House at 287-1515 or visit my website, www.mainesenate.org/diamond 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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