AUGUSTA – Late Thursday evening June 9, the Maine Legislature’s Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee unanimously passed the $6.1 billion two-year budget and both House and Senate Democratic leaders praised it as a bipartisan compromise.

“Committee leaders and members worked tirelessly to find bipartisan compromise even on the issues that most divide us,” said Sen. Barry Hobbins of Saco, the Senate Democratic leader. “We proved once again that we can work together to find reasonable solutions to the challenges that face our state.”

Democratic and Republican lawmakers worked to make key changes to the governor’s original budget proposal, rejecting the most draconian cuts. Democrats fought to keep the state’s promises to public employees and retirees, to preserve health care for 28,000 Maine people, and to protect the elderly and disabled.

“Democrats came ready to work, providing substantive alternatives to many of the governor’s proposals,” said Rep. Emily Cain of Orono, the House Democratic leader. “We stood strong for our core values and worked across the aisle to find a compromise we could support.”

The committee restored cuts to the Fund for a Healthy Maine and prescription drug coverage for the elderly, and it preserved the safety net for the Maine’s neediest families. Lawmakers also rejected the governor’s proposed elimination of funding for Maine Public Broadcasting Network.

Democrats also succeeded in eliminating the governor’s proposal to put a 2 percent tax on employee contributions, and ultimately agreed to cap future cost-of-living increases at 3 percent a year, instead of 2 percent as proposed by the governor. The cost-of-living increases would apply only to the first $20,000 of retirees’ annual pension payments.

“Democrats worked hard to push back against the governor’s proposals on pensions,” said Rep. Peggy Rotundo of Lewiston, who serves as the lead House Democrat on the Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee. “We have a bipartisan commitment from those of us on the committee to continue to work to raise the cap on cost-of-living-adjustments and find a longer-term solution.”

“Our budget is a statement of our principles and priorities,” said Senator Dawn Hill of York, the lead Senate Democrat on the committee. “Democrats worked incredibly hard to protect our most vulnerable citizens and to honor our promises to our communities.”  The budget also lowers taxes for Maine people and businesses, while offering incentives to  traditional Maine industries, like commercial fishing and windjammers.

The budget faces further votes in the House and Senate, where it must earn support from two-thirds of the lawmakers.

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