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For Immediate Release

Date: 02/10/11

Governor Endorses Rep. Ayotte's Bill to Shift Budget to Second Year of Legislature

Governor Would 'Sign It Right Now'

AUGUSTA - Governor Paul LePage gave a ringing endorsement today to a bill sponsored by Rep. Bernard Ayotte, LD 381, that would move the state budget process to the second year of a new Legislature.

In his remarks to a joint session of the Legislature, the governor outlined his budget for fiscal years 2012-2013. He noted that the massive financial plan "is being made available on the 37th day of my term. Given the logistics of drafting and printing the document," he told legislators, "all of the major decisions were made before I was in office a month, and before most of my commissioners were confirmed."

The governor noted that the bill has bipartisan backing from legislative leaders. "I strongly support the bill," he said, "and would sign it right now if we could pass it by a show of hands."

LD 381 is titled An Act to Establish a New Method of Determining the State Budget. "It would give the Legislature time to work on the budget and understand what is in it," said Rep. Ayotte (R-Caswell), a retired school principal.

"The way the budget is currently done doesn't give legislators nearly enough time to digest all the figures before they have to be voting on it," he said. "First-term legislators, in particular, need more time to get up to speed before voting on a budget that will determine state spending for the next two years. It also does not provide sufficient time for a new governor to craft a budget."

Similar legislation was proposed in 2007 and 2009 by former representative Henry Joy, a Republican from Crystal. Those efforts fell short of passage despite garnering significant support in the Legislature. "It seems I was a little ahead of my time," Mr. Joy said today.

Rep. Ayotte's bill differs from Mr. Joy's bill primarily in the starting dates for future budgets. Under LD 381, the start of the fiscal biennium shifts from the first regular session of the Legislature to the second regular session beginning with the fiscal year that begins on July 1, 2014. The bill also provides that the state budget beginning on July 1, 2013 is a one-year budget to align the new start dates. Thereafter, the normal two-year cycle would resume.

"Under my proposal, no new governor would have to race to produce a budget by mid-February after just being elected in November," said Rep. Ayotte. "The Legislature would work on a budget during the first year of a legislative term. They would vote on it early in the second term. Throughout that whole first year, the relevant oversight committees would be involved in refining recommendations instead of just being handed a piece of a finished product, as happens now."

In the governor's budget address, he said "we should all be spending our first year on oversight and decision making. Every agency, program and service ought to start at zero and justify their objectives and practices," he said. "And before a budget is drafted, suggestions for improvement should be considered."

Rep. Ayotte said another advantage of shifting the budget timetable is that municipalities would know how much state money they have to work with in time for their March town meetings. School committees would gain the same advantage.

LD 381 was referred on Feb. 8 to the Committee on Appropriations and Financial Affairs. A public hearing is scheduled for Feb. 23, at 1 p.m., in room 228 of the State House.

Jay Finegan
Maine House Republicans
Tel: (207) 287-1445