LePage Testifies In Front Of Lawmakers After State Workers Criticize Budget 

Unionized state workers upset with pension proposals descended on the state house on Wednesday to address lawmakers about the governor’s proposed two-year budget. There was also a surprise move by the governor himself.The state workers told the Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee the new budget is supposed to be about shared sacrifice but they feel as though they’re shouldering the brunt of that sacrifice. The proposal asks them to pay more for health insurance and retirement benefits. “When I came on to the state, I knew I wasn’t going to get rich but I knew there were pretty good benefits,” says Jim Betts who works for the Department of Labor. “But systematically, every two years, we’re paying more for health insurance, they’re taking away from our pension.”There’s also a proposed 2% cap on cost of living increases for retired state workers and an increase in their retirement age from 62-65 for those who have five years of service or less. Not to mention these workers also don’t qualify for social security. “Is this fair to those of us who went to work for the state in good faith only to see the promises broken in the governor’s budget?” asks retired state worker Lois Baxter. “We are in no way responsible for the position the state is in.” In a highly unusual move, Governor LePage walked down the hall and testified himself, telling the committee parts of his budget are painful but necessary. “We are also in a state with finite resources and there’s no amount of obligation, wishing, or avoidance that will change the hard economic facts,” LePage told lawmakers. “52,529. I’ll repeat it, 52,529 is the number of state workers or teachers who are either on retirement or within the retirement age in the next 10 years.”LePage warned what could happen if the more than $4 billion in unfunded pensions for state workers and teachers isn’t addressed immediately. “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 Maine constitution says the unfunded retirement benefits have to be paid off by 2028 and LePage says this budget puts the state on a path to pay those retirement obligations without passing it on to future generations. “Our fix is not easy, but it is honest and it is essential. we are making promises we know we can keep.”State workers have another rally planned for Thursday.