Maine Governor John Baldacci may draw from future lottery proceeds and delay pension costs as part of his approach to financing a new two-year state budget without raising taxes. Baldacci may also seek approval for changing some benefit standards in the state Medicaid program, which is known as MaineCare, to help cover a budget gap of about $740 million.
Aides shied away from details and emphasized that the forthcoming budget package was subject to change. But planning for a Friday release to the Legislature was already under way.
The value of using future lottery revenue has been pegged at $250 million for the biennium, while extending the payment schedule for the unfunded retirement liability - moving from a schedule of 14 years to 23 years - could be worth more than $135 million through fiscal 2007.
The idea of drawing from anticipated revenue - such as lottery proceeds - has been raised in the past in the context of uses for Maine's share of money from a national tobacco settlement. Under such a plan, Maine would sell a portion of the expected revenue to investors. It essentially provides a cash flow up front, but means the state will lose that revenue in future years.
Administration officials, who conducted at least a couple of briefings Wednesday afternoon for the presiding officers of the House and Senate and a leader of the Maine State Employees Association, are looking to realize savings of at least $65 million within the Department of Health and Human Services.
As an outline of the budget package began to emerge - drawn from interviews with ranking administration officials, departmental managers, lawmakers and lobbyists - the possible effects on state workers were not immediately clear.
"We think there will be some impact on personnel, and obviously our goal will be to minimize the impact on human beings," MSEA Executive Director Carl Leinonen said after his session in the governor's office.
Leinonen credited the Baldacci administration with a "good-faith effort last time" to ease the effects of budget cuts in the face of a $1 billion structural gap.
This time around, Democratic Sen. Margaret Rotundo of Lewiston, who is the new Senate chairwoman of the Legislature's Appropriations Committee, said the administration's message has been that the budget picture is not as dark.
As part of his budget planning, Baldacci has pledged to make an additional $250 million available for public schools as the first half of a four-year phase-in to raise the state share of local education costs to 55 percent.
The governor is being aided by the availability of $94 million in higher-than-expected state revenue that was projected for the upcoming budget cycle by the Maine Revenue Forecasting Committee in its Dec. 1 report.
"The governor's budget will further control spending, make critical investments and grow Maine's economy," gubernatorial spokesman Lee Umphrey said. Umphrey called the spending blueprint "part of a two-year process of regaining Maine's financial position."