AUGUSTA, Maine (AP) ¿ A gaping state budget hole resulting from relentless revenue shortfalls will be the center of Maine lawmakers' attention during the 2010 election-year session, but cell phone safety, ATV regulation and highway funding also will be on the agenda.
Even before they return to the State House for Wednesday's opening, lawmakers agree that the all-consuming issue will be how to make up for a $438 million shortfall in the state's two-year, $5.8 billion budget.
"The vast majority of our time and energy will be spent on the budget," said House Speaker Hannah Pingree, D-North Haven. "No matter what, the budget will dominate the session."Senate President Elizabeth "Libby" Mitchell agreed. "Everything we do this session has to be considered in the context of the budget; there is no way around that," said the Vassalboro Democrat, who is also in a crowded race for governor. Democratic Gov. John Baldacci, beginning his last year as chief executive, has unveiled his blueprint for making what may be painful cuts, especially to public education and human services. It includes no increases in taxes, fees or fines. The Appropriations Committee will take up his revisions and make some hard choices about cuts in Medicaid and other services before sending its version package to the Democratic-controlled Legislature.