The $119 million state budget shortfall identified by the LePage administration this week includes millions of dollars of new spending initiatives, some of which are repeats of proposals by the governor that were rejected last year by the Legislature.
Though the dollar amounts associated with the items are small in comparison to the scope of the overall shortfall, Democrats on the Appropriations Committee on Wednesday were already positioning to separate them from the budget balancing problem they’ll face in the next few months. Sen. Emily Cain, D-Orono, took the lead.
“This was characterized as a shortfall, but it’s a mix of some items that are a shortfall and some items that are new spending initiatives,” said Cain on Wednesday to Finance Commissioner Sawin Millett, during a presentation about the shortfall by Millett to the committee. “At some point we’re going to have to separate them out between what is a shortfall or a savings initiative versus things that are identified needs that require new dollars now or next year.”
Among the initiatives Cain was talking about, some of which were included in six pages of budget documents produced by the administration, was $375,000 for the state’s share of a multi-million dollar National Guard Joint Force Headquarters facility planned to be built in Augusta. Millett said the federal government’s announcement of the project came after passage of the biennial budget bill last year.
Also requested by the administration was $1.5 million to support Career and Technical Education Centers in attaining industry certifications; $1 million to fund the second year of LePage’s “Bridge Program,” which enables students to earn secondary credits while in high school; and $450,000 to support the Jobs for Maine Graduates Program in fiscal year 2015. LePage attempted to fund all three of those programs last year by taking money from general purpose aid for education, which is how the state funds public schools. Legislators and education associations who guard GPA passionately rejected the proposal.
Also identified by LePage this week as a shortfall was increased funding for the state’s guardian ad litem program and the Medical Malpractice Pre-Litigation Panel.
“These are issues that are very important to the chief executive,” said Millett.
LePage could have included these initiatives, which are likely to attract broad support even in these tough financial times, in a supplemental budget bill, but he does not intend to submit one. That means some of the governor’s highest priorities will be at the discretion of lawmakers who already have to plug a more than $100 million budget hole.