AUGUSTA, Maine (AP) — Maine lawmakers had their first budget go-round of the new two-year session on Friday as they reviewed $35.5 million in cutbacks needed for the state to balance its books.
Finance Commissioner Sawin Millett presented details of Gov. Paul LePage’s curtailment order to the Appropriations Committee, which was called in four days before the rest of the Legislature so it could get an early start on its first fiscal challenge.
LePage’s curtailment order for the fiscal year that will end June 30 could be modified by lawmakers before they face their next big fiscal test: passing a budget for the next two years that addresses a projected $128 million revenue shortfall. The total two-year state budget totals roughly $6 billion.
Rep. Peggy Rotundo, the House chair of Appropriations, said the committee is up to the task.
‘‘We know we have very difficult choices to make in the coming weeks and the coming months, and I don’t know what those choices will be,’’ said the Lewiston Democrat. ‘‘But we are determined to work together to make our decisions and to come up with a balanced budget that’s fair and responsible.’’
Addressing the immediate $35.5 million curtailment Friday, Millett says he asked each department to find 1.32 percent of their budgets in savings, and most came right in on those targets. Some agencies exceeded their targeted cuts, and some were unable to meet them, he said.
The largest cuts include $13.1 million affecting an array of services in the Department of Health and Human Services, and $12.5 million in general purpose aid to schools. Other departments facing larger cuts include Corrections, at nearly $2 million, and the University of Maine System, nearly $2.5 million.
Some agencies were able to achieve savings through such strategies as putting off filling job vacancies, delaying debt service on bonds, and reducing contracted services. For adoption services, daily rates will go down for some of those providing services.
At least one lawmaker, Rep. Michael Carey, D-Lewiston, said he'll have more questions about the $1.4 million cut in adoption services, saying it’s a large chunk of the overall $10 million annual program’s budget.
Republicans said LePage’s curtailment order has shed light on common sense savings.
‘‘Clearly there’s some good management practices that have been implemented to save money across departments that'll make the job of closing the shortfall easier,’’ said David Sorensen, spokesman for the House Republicans.