State spending would jump $164 million in LePage budget; $294 million in Legislature’s version

Good morning from Augusta, where negotiations over the biennial state budget haven’t slowed even though the Appropriations Committee made its long-awaited recommendation early Saturday morning. 

Despite the vote, legislative leaders spent much of the weekend at the State House trying to hash out a deal that will garner the two-thirds support the budget needs for enactment. House Minority Leader Ken Fredette of Newport, who leads the negotiations for House Republicans in favor of a budget bill that’s similar to what Gov. Paul LePage proposed in January, said Sunday night that some progress has been made, but not the kind that will pull enough votes in his caucus. 

On Sunday, the Office of Fiscal and Program Review generated estimates of how much the two budget proposals currently on the table will cost. While there’s little surprise that the majority budget backed by Democrats and Senate Republicans, which includes more funding for public education and fewer cuts to social service programs than LePage wanted, is more expensive than LePage’s proposal, Fredette said it illustrates that spending is out of control in Augusta. Here’s what the document states, to the dollar: 

  • The General Fund budget in the current biennium, which ends June 30, is $6,417,341,266. 
  • The bottom line on LePage’s proposal for 2016-17 is $6,581,847,181, which is about $164 million more than the current budget. That’s an increase of about 2.6 percent.
  • The bottom line on the majority report is $6,711,394,783, which is about $130 million more than LePage’s proposal and $294 million more than the current biennium. That’s a jump of about 4.6 percent over the current biennium 

Fredette, who has said for the past 10 days or so that his caucus demands an income tax cut, welfare reform and less spending to come along on the budget, says a spending increase of nearly $300 million is too much. 

“This is too much of an additional burden on the Maine taxpayers,” said Fredette, who said he expects to return to negotiations this morning. Democrats’ position has been that some investments, particularly when it comes to public education, are worth the expense.

Meanwhile, the budget reports voted out of Appropriations early Saturday are on to the Revisor of Statutes, which will spend at least the next week, and maybe more, putting several hundred pages of budget language into two bills for consideration by the full Legislature.

Speaking of the full Legislature, this is likely to be a week of double and maybe triple sessions as lawmakers scramble to finish their work by the statutory adjournment date of June 17. — Christopher Cousins 

Pew: Most Americans back legal status for undocumented immigrants

The Pew Research Center has found in a new poll that 72 percent of Americans believe that undocumented immigrants who are already here should be allowed to legally remain in the United States. The poll shows that position favored by 80 percent of Democrats, 76 percent of independents and 56 percent of Republicans.

Those numbers have not fluctuated much in recent years, when immigration has been in focus at the national level. Read Politico’s analysis of the poll here and see the poll results themselves here. The survey was conducted by Pew in mid-May and included about 2,000 adults. About 51 percent of the respondents said “immigrants strengthen the country because of their hard work and talents (which is a 6 percent decline from last year), while 41 percent say immigrants are a burden because they take jobs, housing and health care,” reads a summary by Pew.

Democrats were decidedly in the “immigrants strengthen the country” camp at about 62 percent with about the same percentage of Republicans saying immigrants are a burden on the country. — Christopher Cousins

Reading list

Jazz is dead, you say?

No, it isn’t. Listen to the life brimming in this clip of Bath-based clarinetist Brad Terry and guitarist Peter Herman of Mount Vernon.

One truth about live jazz, maybe moreso than any other music genre, is that the beauty comes from the interaction between the musicians, which is especially evident watching these two Maine masters play together. My friends and BDN colleagues Darren Fishell and Troy R. Bennett visited with Terry during the past few months and produced this touching package, which is a work of art in itself. Terry is now 77 years old and contemplating retirement and ending on a high note.

“Here I am, dead broke and with my house falling down on my head, but I made sort of a commitment to myself early on that the day I went to work for the sole sake of the paycheck was the last day of that job,” said Terry. “I want to be the low man on the totem pole and be hanging on by a thread.”

You have a long way to go to the bottom, Mr. Terry. — Christopher Cousins

Christopher Cousins

About Christopher Cousins

Christopher Cousins has worked as a journalist in Maine for more than 15 years and covered state government for numerous media organizations before joining the Bangor Daily News in 2009.