WATERVILLE — Sen. Colleen Lachowicz and Rep. Thomas Longstaff, both D-Waterville, told residents at a public forum Monday that it is essential for people to go to Augusta and attend legislative hearings on proposed cuts in the governor’s two-year budget.

The voice of the people is needed, they said.

Hearings and work sessions before the state’s Appropriations Committee begin Wednesday, they said.

“It makes a lot of difference. There’s probably nothing more important than letting your voice be heard,” Longstaff told a small group Monday night.

At stake, Lachowicz said, is more than $425 million possibly being shifted to property taxpayers with the elimination of state revenue sharing, burdening cities and towns with the costs of teacher retirement and reducing funding to school districts.

She said the governor proposes the budget, but it’s up to committee members and their constituants to make the final document.

“People just don’t realize how important it is to show up at public hearings,” Lachowicz said.

Longstaff said the issue of paying the hospital debt has become a high priority among Democrats and appears linked now to the status of the state liquor contract.

The governor’s bill, L.D. 239, “An Act to Improve the Return to the State on the Sale of Spirits and To Provide a Source of Payment for Maine’s Hospitals,” lays out a plan to repay the hospitals $484 million in debt owed to them since 2009 by restructuring the state’s liquor contract and recapturing millions of dollars that now flow to an out-of-state company, according to a news release Monday from the governor’s office.

Under the governor’s plan, the hospitals could be paid by June 1.

In addition, the governor’s plan would free up $105 million in bonds, releasing funding for a variety of projects across Maine. The plan would inject nearly $700 million into Maine’s economy, creating health care and construction jobs, investing millions to pay for clean water and transportation projects and setting aside money for the state’s depleted rainy-day fund, LePage said in the release.

“For the most part, I’m confident people are going to work together,” Longstaff said. “I’m optimistic we’ll get a good liquor contract — this is a big one — that’s worth about $500 million over 10 years.”

Longstaff said getting that contract and finalizing a plan to pay the hospital debt will be good first steps to tackling the other portions of the budget that are important to taxpayers in Maine.

Discussion topics Monday night also included drugs for the elderly, general assistance, reimbursement rates for ambulance service and the Homestead Exemption Act.

Doug Harlow — 612-2367
[email protected]

 

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