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Maine Lawmakers Pass Temporary Budget

A TEMPORARY spending measure passed by lawmakers over the weekend will allow the government to reopen today after a week-long shutdown and give legislative leaders and the governor time to work out details of a labor bill that is holding up the state's $3.2 billion budget.However, if legislators and Gov. John McKernan fail to agree on the workers' compensation bill by Wednesday, the government could shut down again. Governor McKernan closed all but "essential" state agencies on July 1, the beginning of the new fiscal year. He laid off 10,000 of the state's 12, 000 employees after vetoing a budget proposal because the Legislature had failed to approve a plan to revamp the state's workers' compensation system. The Republican governor contends the employer-funded insurance system for injured workers must be changed in order to attract new business investment and pull Maine out of the recession. McKernan's workers' compensation plan would cut premiums paid by employers by 35 percent, and replace the current state compensation board with an independent panel made up of physicians to rule on workers' claims. Leaders of the Democratic-controlled Legislature say the bill would cut deeply into workers' benefits. They accused McKernan of holding the budget - and state government - hostage to force passage of the workers' compensation bill. The provisional budget agreement came one day after lawmakers voted to rehire the 10,000 idled state workers temporarily, while legislative leaders and the governor attempt to settle their dispute.

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