Budget cut order brings Maine panel to work early

Glenn Adams, Associated Press

AUGUSTA, Maine (AP) -- Four days before Maine's House and Senate are scheduled to return to the State House to get down to business for the 2013 session, the Appropriations Committee will be reporting for duty Friday to deal with Gov. Paul LePage's order cutting $35.5 million in spending.

Legislative Democratic leaders want the committee to get an early start on its review of a curtailment order signed a week ago by LePage. The Republican governor said it's needed to balance the state budget for year ending June 30.

Under the Republican governor's spending cut order, the Department of Health and Human Services takes the biggest hit, $13.4 million. Another major department, Education, will see a $12.6 million reduction in General Purpose Aid for local schools.

State Finance Commissioner H. Sawin Millett is expected to present the committee with details of those and other planned cuts. Listed among the DHHS cuts in a curtailment document prepared by the administration is about $314,000 to the Office for Family Independence, which provides such services as child support, family emergency assistance and welfare.

It also includes $1.2 million in cuts to the Bureau of Children with Special Needs, $360,000 to the Office of Substance Abuse and $1.4 million to foster care and adoption assistance, among numerous other reductions.

Health and Human Services Commissioner Mary Mayhew has already told lawmakers she projects expenses for her department could outstrip available funds by $100 million as program participants request more services.

Democrats said they will have plenty of questions as the specifics come out.

"We will be reviewing the curtailment in detail, asking questions about the impact of the cuts on education, public health, mental health and adoption services," said Jodi Quintero, spokeswoman for House Speaker Mark Eves, D-North Berwick.

The Republicans, now in the minority after two years of legislative rule, issued a statement calling curtailment "a necessary and decisive move by the governor to bring the budget into balance until the Legislature can craft a supplemental budget that makes more targeted cuts to state spending through the remainder of the fiscal year."

House Republican Leader Ken Fredette, R-Newport, said there's no doubt the cuts would be painful, but expressed confidence the Appropriations Committee "will deal with these tough choices in a bipartisan and responsible way."

The state's fiscal challenges do not end with the current fiscal year. Forecasters' figures show revenues lagging behind estimates by $128 million during the two-year budget cycle that begins July 1, meaning less money would be available to pay for services.