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LePage budget brings out hundreds of union workers in protest

Bangor Daily News, 3/2/11

By Kevin Miller
Bangor Daily News

AUGUSTA, Maine — Hundreds of public employees, retirees and union members have gathered at the State House for the first day of hearings on the portions of Gov. Paul LePage’s budget that affect state workers.

Testifying at around 12:30 p.m., LePage said there are currently more than 52,000 current retirees or state workers eligible for retirement within the next decade.

Without the reforms proposed in his budget, the Legislature would need to find $926 million over the next two years to meet the state’s pension obligations. By the end of the decade, that obligation will grow to more than $1.5 billion, accounting for approximately one-quarter of Maine’s General Fund, the governor said.

“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,” LePage said. “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.”

Hearings began just after 10 a.m. State finance commissioner Sawin Millett laid out plans to increase the amount that state employees contribute to their pensions, to raise the minimum retirement age and to freeze and then cap the cost-of-living adjustment that pensioners receive.

State Treasurer Bruce Poliquin then urged the Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee to adopt the changes as a way to begin to address the estimated $4.3 billion shortfall in Maine’s pension account for state workers.
“This fiscal monster was created years ago by those who promised pension benefits without setting aside enough money to pay the bill,” Poloquin said.

LePage’s testimony will be followed by a long list of state employees and retirees who have signed up to testify.

On Wednesday morning, members of the Maine State Nurses Association held a press conference to show support for the Maine State Employees Association and to sound the alarm about what they say is an anti-union agenda being pursued by the administration.

“Paul LePage, like [Wisconsin Gov.] Scott Walker, was elected by a minority of citizens in Maine, just 38 percent of the vote,” Catherine Harper, a nurse at Mount Desert Island Hospital, said at the rally. “And he did it with the generosity of corporate special interests. Now he is going after some of the only working people in Maine, union workers, who can stand up to big business.”

Even larger rallies and protests are planned for Thursday in Augusta.

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