AUGUSTA, Maine — At a meeting Wednesday with Portland Mayor Michael Brennan to discuss the effects of proposed MaineCare cuts on the state’s largest city, Gov. Paul LePage said he’ll have to shut down the Department of Health and Human Services if lawmakers don’t enact his cuts.
The meeting came two days after Brennan held a press conference critical of the governor’s plan to drop 65,000 people from MaineCare to close an estimated $221 million budget gap at the department. LePage’s plan eliminates $2 million from city-run programs in Portland and includes $20 million in cuts to the city’s hospitals, Brennan said Monday, joined by representatives from Portland business, social service and nonprofit groups.
Both Brennan and LePage spokeswoman Adrienne Bennett characterized Wednesday’s meeting as cordial, though neither side appeared to have made any concessions.
“It was a cordial meeting and it was a good give-and-take and that’s important,” Brennan said afterward.
The mayor, a Democrat and one-time Senate chairman of the Legislature’s Health and Human Services Committee, said he voiced many of the same concerns he addressed at Monday’s press conference. He said he urged the governor to allow lawmakers to look beyond the DHHS shortfall to the wider state budget to find savings and to consider tax increases to raise additional revenues.
LePage reminded the mayor that he attempted to address the DHHS shortfall last February as part of the biennial budget process but legislators rejected his proposal, Bennett said. The governor also remains steadfastly opposed to hiking taxes to address a structural problem within the MaineCare program, she said.
LePage said during the meeting that he’ll be forced to shut down DHHS on April 1 if his proposed savings fail to win approval, according to Bennett. The governor meant that there would be no money left to pay the department’s bills and people would lose their services from DHHS, she said.
“The governor invited the mayor to come here today as an opportunity for [Brennan] to offer solutions, because we are, right now, faced with an immediate problem, a $221 million shortfall,” Bennett said. “We’ve got to fix it.”
The Legislature’s Appropriations Committee meets Wednesday and throughout the week to continue deliberations on the DHHS budget.