Maine state workers protest Governor's proposed budget reforms
AUGUSTA, Maine: Friday marked the third day of protests by state employees over proposed reforms in newly-elected Republican Governor Paul LePage's $6.1 billion budget plan. Public hearings on the plan began in the Senate Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee on March 2 and were immediately met with outcry, most notably for changes to the pension system.
On the first day of hearings LePage briefly appeared before the committee to tell them that, if the pension system is not reformed, it could consume one-quarter of the General Fund revenues by 2020. He stated, “If we let the problem get to this point, Maine’s defined pension system will cease to exist and our promises to retirees will go unmet. Let me say it again: If we do not act, people in this room will be forced to make funding decisions so dire that our current state retirement system will have to be cast aside.” The committee also heard several hours of testimony from state employees and retirees.
LePage's proposals are estimated to save $400 million in the two-year budget cycle and over $2 billion in the long term. The proposal includes a 2% increase state workers would contribute from their paychecks to the pension system, raising the retirement age from 62 to 65 for certain employees, and a freeze and cap on the cost of living adjustment for retirees. State workers contest that they are being targeted by a Republican administration that is anti-union. Republicans shot back that, just like in Wisconsin, the voters made their will clear by electing new GOP majorities in the state House and Senate, along with a new Republican Governor.
On Thursday, despite below-freezing temperatures, hundreds of workers showed up to protest at the capital as the committee listened to testimony on changes to state employee health care benefits. Security was increased at the State House but there were no incidents.
Friday saw the committee questioning Finance Commissioner Sawin Millett on how proposed changes would affect state teachers. The teachers themselves then had a chance to testify.
- Bangor Daily News, "LePage budget draws fire from state workers, retirees," March 2, 2011
- Bangor Daily News, "LePage backers, unions square off at Capitol over state workers’ pensions," March 3, 2011
- Stateline, "Labor union discord reaches New England," March 4, 2011
- Bangor Daily News, "Teachers line up to question LePage’s proposed changes to pension, insurance," March 4, 2011