Gov. Pledges Accountability on Stimulus

Fri February 27, 2009 - Northeast Edition
Francis X. Quinn




AUGUSTA, Maine (AP) Gov. John Baldacci conferred Feb. 17 with ranking lawmakers on how to handle hundreds of millions of dollars in federal stimulus funds and promised transparency as budget hearings entered a second week.

Aides in the governor’s office and the Legislature said amounts available to Maine were still being computed, but preliminary estimates included several hundred million dollars each for education and health care.

“We have an opportunity to create jobs, avoid layoffs, make much-needed improvements in our state’s infrastructure and invest in education,’’ the governor said in a statement. “Now it is my responsibility to make sure we act transparently and quickly to get the new funding into the economy and get people back to work.’’

Baldacci’s budget chief, Ryan Low, who heads the Department of Administrative and Financial Services, will serve as state coordinator for managing the stimulus funds, part of the $787 billion package signed Feb. 17 by President Barack Obama in his effort to revive the economy and create jobs.

In the last year, Maine has lost about 3,200 jobs in the construction industry alone, trade groups said.

Baldacci, a Democrat, issued an executive order he said would ensure accountability on the proposed use of the federal money and allow legislative oversight. As outlined by the governor, state agencies will brief legislative oversight committees on it.

Feb. 17’s topic for the Legislature’s Appropriations Committee, meanwhile, was health and human services.

Of Baldacci’s proposed two-year General Fund budget of $6.1 billion, programs for health and human services make up more than $1.8 billion, about 30 percent. Most of that, more than $1.2 billion, would go toward Medicaid, the health program known locally as MaineCare, which is funded jointly by the state and the federal government.

The Appropriations Committee plans to hear three days of presentations and testimony on health and human services, with Department of Health and Human Services Commissioner Brenda Harvey taking a lead role.

Harvey told the committee Feb. 17 in prepared remarks that her department was analyzing what’s in the bill but the one-time federal dollars “will certainly help’’ some of its programs, including MaineCare and food stamps.

As budget hearings move forward, members of the two state panels that develop revenue projections for the state are looking toward a new report in May. Panelists gathered at the State House on Feb. 17 to discuss economic trends that, according to state tax department analyst Michael Allen said, are “not pleasant.’’