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Every year, Maine’s Legislature deals with a long list of ideas.

Lawmakers diligently move through good ideas and bad; big ideas and small ones, critical matters and minor ones.

But there is no bigger item on the agenda than the State budget.

Ultimately, how the State allocates its resources defines our collective priorities as a community.

This year is no different.

We began 2008 with bad economic news. Revenues were not meeting expenditures for the fiscal year.

We passed a two-year budget. The Revenue Forecasting Commission revues the revenue figures and streams, makes a determination whether those estimates for the two-year budget were on target or not.

Because of the declining economy, Maine’s revenues were estimated to be declined by $95 million dollars for the two-year budget. Therefore, with that notice, I began a curtailment of all State spending so that we would be able to meet the budgetary responsibilities that the Constitution has assigned to the Governor of a balanced budget.

I presented a Supplemental Budget to the Legislature to incorporate those cuts - and additional cuts - because it’s my goal that this $95 million dollars be realized without any tax increases, any additional fees or fines and be truly balanced, as it was two years ago.

Since that time, we’ve had an additional slowing of our national economy and the Revenue Forecasting Commission has indicated that it will be meeting at the end of this month to further review whether they need to decline state revenues once again.

Estimates are being thrown around from anywhere from 30 – 50 million additional dollars that the State will lose because of this slowing economy that we have.

And, due to other factors overall with the federal changes of rulemaking in terms of the Medicaid program, the State is estimated to see somewhere between 20 – 30 million dollars less of revenue from the Medicaid match for the Targeted Case Management Program.

Those things, while they’re still in flux, have given us an opportunity to continue to roll up our sleeves, to continue to look for savings, continually trying to spread resources, but we recognize that our ultimate responsibility is to the citizens of this State who are tightening their own belts. I’m determined to make sure that we don’t add any additional burdens to that.

It is difficult for groups and organizations – and some people – to recognize that we have to change. I’m trying to find, in all of the darkness, opportunities to reorganize how we’re doing things - to use this as not so much as a crisis, but as a challenge and an opportunity to change things for the future.

The core of our responsibilities and priorities are to our children, to our most vulnerable. We need to make sure that the safety net is there.

We need to reduce the amount of administration at all levels of government – even in non-profit and social organizations that we reimburse.

Those are difficult because those associations have been built up over a long period of time.

But our ultimate goal is to make sure the safety net is strong and at the same time we are providing for economic development and growth.

We need to recognize that the best opportunity is an opportunity and foundation of higher education, research and development so that once they graduate they find the new opportunities here in our State and don’t have to leave the State of Maine and go elsewhere. But they find it here and that we retain and protect the highest quality of life that we have.

Because in the State of Maine, we have an opportunity in the 21st century to make it Maine’s century. If we can expand broadband Internet capacity, if we can protect our quality of resources, if we can ensure the doors to higher education are opened wider than ever before and providing research and development with the university and other non-profit institutions so that the latest cutting edge technologies can start up factories and processes here.

And make Maine the renewable energy, the green energy State, the hub energy State of the 50 states, so we can be a pioneer in wind, wood and tidal.

I think Maine’s future is bright, we have to work at it. It’s not going to be easy and there are going to be sacrifices.

And also, I know this has been a difficult time with the winter that we have had and the ice storm that’s reminiscent of ’98 in some small way that we wish would stay back in 1998.

But I just want to thank our line crews, our road crews, our State Police, Sheriffs and local Police Department, and all those people that have given of themselves during a very difficult time.

I really appreciate – and I know the State really appreciates – what you have been doing. So on behalf of all of us, thank you for your service.

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