Bipartisan support puts flawed budget over top

Portland Press Herald

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Copyright © 2006 Blethen Maine Newspapers Inc.

It doesn't give the state's community colleges and university campuses their due. It doesn't set aside enough money for the state's Clean Election Fund. It spreads around millions of dollars to special-interest projects that may be worthy but in tight budget times could be dropped.

Yet, the supplemental spending plan approved by legislative leaders early Tuesday morning is an accomplishment worth noting. After years of failing to agree on fiscal matters in Augusta, Republicans and Democrats came together.

The $160 million supplemental budget is a series of compromises. Democrats, for instance, wanted to maintain the current health-care safety net for the poor. The GOP's core agenda included money for highways without having to issue new bonds. This budget meets those goals.

In recent years, failure to come together on the budget has set a nasty partisan tone in Augusta.

To take effect in fewer than 90 days, budgets require two-thirds approval from lawmakers. In recent years, Democrats have circumvented this requirement by passing budgets 90 days ahead of their effective date. This has bred considerable resentment among Republicans, making it hard to get bipartisan traction on an issue.

So, while the budget blueprint is flawed, it deserves support because it represents a chance to set a better tone in the State House.

Still, it's regrettable that more money was not found for higher education, particularly the state's community college system. It is growing rapidly and is important to Maine's long-term economic health.

It's also unfortunate that lawmakers could only find $1.2 million more for the Clean Election Fund. The fund provides public financing for legislative and gubernatorial candidates. Lawmakers have raided the fund to make previous budgets balance. It was owed $4.8 million, and - given the program's popularity and success in reducing the influence of money in politics - it ought to have received that amount.

The budget also funds small projects for the arts, farmer training and veterans cemeteries, among other priorities. Each is worthy, but a sharp budget knife might have excised these priorities in favor of money for the community colleges, for instance.

All this amounts to quibbles, however. Finding money to boost local school aid, putting aside nearly $30 million in the state's rainy day fund and maintaining health-care services to the poor are solid and worthy priorities.

So, too, is doing business on a bipartisan basis.