February 8, 2013

Legislature's budget committee delays $153 million-plus budget stopgap vote

Cut to charter schools funds could prove political wrench in works

By Michael Shepherd mshepherd@mainetoday.com
State House Bureau

AUGUSTA — The Legislature’s budget-writing committee adjourned late Thursday without voting out a more-than-$153 million emergency budget package.

click image to enlarge

Gov. Paul LePage gestures while giving the State of the State address on Tuesday.

Staff file photo by Joe Phelan

That amount is needed to balance the state’s budget for the current fiscal year, and the Appropriations Committee is expected to take up the budget again Monday.

Most of the budget hole — nearly $88 million — is because of Medicaid overruns, according to the state’s Department of Health and Human Services. Another $35.5 million of the budget gap is a result of lower-than-expected revenue collection.

Of the Medicaid gap, $33 million is accounted for by savings that weren’t realized when the federal government rejected many changes the last, Republican-led Legislature championed.

Two major fights between Democrats and Republican have emerged on the budget: whether to make a small cut to charter school funding and whether to impose a $10.1 million cap on General Assistance payments to municipalities.

Gov. Paul LePage proposed sparing Maine’s two operational public charter schools while suggesting a near-$12.6 million cut to conventional K-12 public schools. Democrats on the Education Committee included a small cut for the charter schools.

The dollar savings on that and the cap are relatively insignificant, but they are ideological obstacles to passing a unanimous budget report out of the committee. 

That’s important because the Legislature must pass the budget by a two-thirds majority to enact it as an emergency proposal and override LePage’s veto pen. Adrienne Bennett, his spokeswoman, said Friday that though the governor opposes the charter school cut, she doesn’t know whether he’ll veto the budget because of it.

If he did, most Republicans might go with him and hold it up. In a Friday email, House Republicans spokesman David Sorensen said his caucus wouldn’t override any veto if charter school cuts are in play.

He said Democrats were doing “nothing more than water-carrying” for the Maine Education Association, the teachers’ union.

“The moderates whom you would normally consider prone to veto overrides are especially adamant about charter school funding specifically and education reform generally,” Sorensen wrote in an email. “We believe if we’re ever to see true education reform, state government must stop (kowtowing) to the teacher’s union.”

Michael Shepherd — 370-7652

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