AUGUSTA, Maine — The chairmen of the Legislature’s budget-writing committee presented Gov. Paul LePage on Thursday with a compromise proposal to address an estimated $220 million shortfall in the Department of Health and Human Services biennial budget.
LePage addressed that alternative proposal at an impromptu press conference later in the day but did not indicate whether he supported it. He also didn’t offer any specifics other than that the new proposal allows the state to pays its bill through June.
Republicans and Democrats on the Appropriations Committee also declined to offer specifics on the new proposal Thursday, indicating that they are in negotiations and hope to strike a deal soon.
A few details of the alternative proposal were confirmed.
The panel has identified $120 million in DHHS cuts within the 2012 portion of the budget. That is expected to be combined with another proposal for $25 million in savings identified by a streamlining task force last fall.
The bulk of the 2013 portion of the DHHS budget then would be addressed with a separate bill later this session, although some 2013 cuts would be addressed in the 2012 budget, according to lawmakers.
The goal is to deal with the 2012 budget as soon as possible so the state can pay its MaineCare bills. The governor has said many times that if the Legislature does nothing, the program will run out of money in April, and he reiterated that again on Thursday.
“If the cash don’t flow, welfare checks don’t go,” he said.
The governor’s initial proposal, released last December, would cut $220 million in MaineCare spending over the next year and a half by tightening eligibility guidelines, eliminating services and repealing coverage for an estimated 65,000 recipients.
The Appropriations Committee has been working on a proposal for several weeks. At least one major item — a plan to cut about $60 million from private nonmedical institutions — has been rejected.
Additionally, three areas of LePage’s proposal appear to violate provisions of the federal Affordable Care Act: tighter eligibility for a program that helps seniors pay for prescription drugs; stricter income limits for some parents; and dropping 19- and 20-year-olds, or noncategoricals, from the MaineCare rolls.
Those three elements account for about $37 million.
The federal Department of Health and Human Services has said that the waivers needed to enact these changes are not likely to be approved. But LePage and some Republicans on the Appropriations Committee continue to seek the waivers.
LePage said he understands that the Democrats don’t like his plan and he said he doesn’t really like his plan either because he doesn’t relish making such deep cuts.
But he said Democrats need to bring another option.
“Democrats have been stalling since Day One,” LePage said. “They have not done one thing to help Maine people.”
Rep. Peggy Rotundo of Lewiston, the lead Democrat on Appropriations, called the governor’s charge “untrue and unfair.”
“I’ll remind the governor that Democrats are in the minority,” she said. “The Republicans have control of both the State House and Senate, and if he had their support for his dangerous, irresponsible and illegal cuts, they could pass the budget without us.
“We believe we will have agreement in the coming days to resolve the immediate shortfall.”
Senate Minority Leader Barry Hobbins of Saco said it’s unusual for the governor to keep inserting himself into the budget process.
“Unfortunately, the governor has been very public in his disruption to the process,” Hobbins said. “Democrats and Republicans have been and continue to work very hard to resolve the budget problems and the governor needs to let them continue negotiating in good faith.”
House Speaker Robert Nutting of Oakland said the governor didn’t say anything Thursday that he hasn’t said already. Nutting said he was confident Appropriations Committee members were working hard to pass a budget.