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December 23, 2013

Legislature gears up for budget questions

Before lawmakers return to Augusta in January, conflicts are already emerging over a supplemental budget plan, a task that Gov. Paul LePage said he will leave to the Legislature to sort out.

Not my budget, not my problem

Lawmakers have started requesting information from various state departments as they look to craft a supplemental budget that will make mid-course adjustments to the state's two-year budget. The Associated Press reported LePage has deviated from the standard practice of submitting a proposal from the governor's office because the Legislature passed the current budget by overriding his veto. Lawmakers will have to address issues like a $20 million shortfall to pay for the Riverview Psychiatric Hospital in Augusta and will also take up the issue of reducing revenue sharing with municipalities if they can't find common ground on a proposal by a special committee to eliminate $40 million in tax exemptions.

Unemployment hearing report

A commission established by the governor to examine the state's unemployment system found no evidence of bias against employers but found understaffing at the department has, in some cases, led to delays in benefit payments and overpayments by employers. The commission's recommendation also called for the state to allow employers to present certain evidence in business records that were being dismissed as hearsay in unemployment benefit appeals cases. The Bangor Daily News reported the commission also recommended improving technology throughout the process and creating better methods for collecting information about a case.

Outside dollars

In the past two election years, groups outside of a specific candidate's campaign have increasingly spent more than the candidates themselves in order to influence electoral outcomes in Maine. With 2014 in sight, a Maine Citizens for Clean Elections report shows the amount of independent expenditures in favor or against particular candidates has risen sharply since 2008. In the 2006 gubernatorial election, the report found outside groups spent just $600,000. In 2010, the first gubernatorial race since the U.S. Supreme Court's Citizens United decision, outside groups reported spending $4 million.

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