All eyes on the budget, plus 7 stories you need to read

All eyes in the State House are eagerly fixed on the second-floor office of Gov. Paul LePage, where the governor and his budget team are in the final stages of crafting the next biennial budget.

Maine statute requires that the governor submit his budget proposal by Jan. 9, a deadline that falls just two days after the governor will be inaugurated into his second term in office.

The budget will cover the two-year period beginning July 1, 2015. LePage spokeswoman Adrienne Bennett said Monday that while details of the budget proposal will not be disclosed until the final draft is complete, the budget total will likely not stray too far from the current $6.3 billion figure.

The budget proposal will not only lay out a blueprint for the state’s revenue and expenditures for the next two years, but will represent LePage’s policy goals for the first half of his second term. Bennett said the budget will include welfare and tax-and-spending reform, plus efforts to reduce energy costs and “right-size” government.

The governor has shown a willingness to include bombshells in his budget proposals.

Two years ago, for example, he proposed the complete suspension of municipal revenue sharing, a move that would have created a combined $200 million budget hole in municipal coffers for the biennium. (The final budget approved by the Legislature tempered the proposal, but still resulted in revenue sharing cuts worth about $70 million.)

LePage and his budget team — including top officials from the finance department, health and human services department, Maine Revenue Services and the governor’s executive staff — have been hammering out the budget since the summer, Bennett said.

As he did in his first term, the governor has asked each department to practice “zero-based budgeting,” which requires each department head to newly justify every requested expenditure. LePage touts zero-based budgeting as a technique to ensure fiscal responsibility.

With Republicans having taken over the majority in the Senate and no further election on the horizon, LePage will have more leeway to aggressively pursue his agenda. But, he’ll still have to contend with Democrats, who control the House of Representatives and the all-important Appropriations Committee, where most of the budget battles are sure to be fought (albeit behind closed doors).

7 stories you need to read

It’s the slow season in Augusta. Elections are over but the next Legislature has yet to really begin. Still, here’s seven stories to keep you up to date on #mepolitics.

Mario Moretto

About Mario Moretto

Mario Moretto has been a Maine journalist, in print and online publications, since 2009. He joined the Bangor Daily News in 2012, first as a general assignment reporter in his native Hancock County and, now, in the State House. Mario left the BDN in 2015.