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Maine Legislature OKs Budget, Works on Workers’ Comp; Conn. Talks Break Off

July 6, 1991

AUGUSTA, Maine (AP) _ Maine lawmakers approved a tentative budget plan Saturday in the first step toward breaking a partisan impasse that shut down many government agencies last week.

Budget negotiators struck a new deal for filling the last $32 million hole in a $3.2 billion spending blueprint through mid-1993.

Both houses of the Democratic-controlled Legislature approved the measure and forwarded it to Republican Gov. John R. McKernan. The House vote was 112-24; the Senate voted 25-4.

But McKernan warned that an end to the weeklong shutdown was far from guaranteed. Furloughed state workers, he said, should ″treat Monday like a snow day″ and listen to radio reports for word on whether to go to work.

Things did not go so smoothly in Connecticut, where a fourth day of summit talks between Gov. Lowell P. Weicker and legislative leaders halted at midday Saturday after less than an hour.

The two states were among a half-dozen without a spending plan Saturday, the sixth day of the new fiscal year in many states. Citizens in both Maine and Connecticut have endured a partial shutdown of state services, while in Pennsylvania, thousands of state paychecks were not issued Friday.

While an accord on a budget was reached in Maine, two other legislative committees went back to work trying to agree on a workers’ compensation revamping package that the governor has linked to the spending package.

McKernan and his GOP allies have insisted on action to curb business insurance costs as a condition for accepting nearly $300 million in income, sales and gasoline tax hikes being counted on to finance the budget.

If the two other panels show signs of progress by Sunday, McKernan is expected to give tentative approval to the budget, allowing state offices to reopen Monday and bringing more than 10,000 idled state employees back to work.

But under the complex procedure worked out by negotiators, the Maine budget would expire Wednesday even with McKernan’s signature unless a workers’ compensation compromise is approved by then.

McKernan budget chief H. Sawin Millett called the approval of the spending plan a major step but said the workers’ comp discussions will be ″the real test.″

In Connecticut, a Weicker spokesman said the summit meeting did not end because of short tempers, despite its brief, 45-minute tenure.

″No, it wasn’t abrupt. Nobody was hitting on anybody,″ said Charles F.J. Morse, a Weicker aide who is acting as spokesman on the summit. ″I don’t know what it portends.″

Weicker shut down nonessential state offices Tuesday after the General Assembly failed to adopt a budget for 1991-92. The partial government shutdown has idled about 20,000 state workers, about 40 percent of the state’s workforce, and closed all but three of the state’s parks.

Weicker said he would announce Sunday what action he plans to take on a stopgap spending bill that would restart state government while the budget is being worked out.

In Pennsylvania, lawmakers planned no further negotiations until Sunday. The state is trying to close a $454 million deficit in a budget estimated to be more $13 billion.

On Friday, 10,000 of Pennsylvania’s 107,000 workers weren’t paid on their payday. Some others, whose paychecks had been approved late in the last fiscal year, did get paid while for others, it wasn’t payday.

At a rally Friday in the capital of Harrisburb, about 100 Pennsylvania state workers chanted: ″Paycheck, paycheck,″ and waved signs with legends such as: ″Don’t pass the buck - Pass the budget.″

In Illinois, state services have been unaffected by stalled budget negotiations. But budget talks stalled Saturday when Democrats rejected a Republican compromise proposal aimed at easing a gaping budget gap. Gov. Jim Edgar, a Republican, has threatened to shut down some state services at some unspecified point if the problem isn’t solved.

California lawmakers took a break for the holiday weekend before facing the impasse that has grounded their $55 billion budget. Gov. Pete Wilson gave the Legislature an extra 12 days to resolve the final $2.5 billion portion of the complex deal.

In North Carolina, lawmakers adjourned budget negotiations for the weekend. House and Senate negotiators said they plan to focus on education spending when they resume talks Monday.

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