Budget-cutting plan gets first House OK, LePage says it doesn’t go far enough

Gov. Paul LePage speaks at a news conference Thursday, Dec. 15, 2011, at the State House in Augusta.
Robert F. Bukaty | AP
Gov. Paul LePage speaks at a news conference Thursday, Dec. 15, 2011, at the State House in Augusta.
Posted Feb. 14, 2012, at 4:01 p.m.
Last modified Feb. 14, 2012, at 6:21 p.m.

AUGUSTA, Maine — The Maine House on Tuesday gave initial approval to Medicaid cuts that are intended to help close a $120 million state budget shortfall, but the governor says they don’t go far enough to cut state spending.

The House vote was mainly a procedural step to get the bill in position for possible amendments before further House and Senate votes. There was no roll call taken for the vote, so it was impossible to gauge the level of support for a measure that would eventually need a two-thirds vote. A few amendments were being drafted, but it was uncertain if they would be offered during debate.

Gov. Paul LePage, who was due back in Maine on Tuesday after a three-day Florida vacation, has expressed reservations about much of the budget package, saying it doesn’t go far enough in reducing costs of MaineCare, the state’s Medicaid program for the poor and disabled, which cost more than $552 million in state funds in fiscal 2011.

The governor has maintained the state will not be able to pay for the Department of Health and Human Service-administered programs past April if structural changes are not implemented now. He has criticized the cuts endorsed by the Appropriations Committee as insufficient and threatened to veto it. Addressing a two-year shortfall pegged at more than $220 million by the administration, the committee broke the budget into separate years to be dealt with separately.

The rhetoric softened Tuesday as his spokeswoman, Adrienne Bennett, said LePage would scrutinize any package that may emerge from the Legislature.

“We’ve got to see the results when it’s on his desk,” said Bennett. “He’ll read it like he does every bill.”

The supplemental budget before lawmakers seeks to make up for a revenue shortfall of about $120 million for the current fiscal year, which ends June 30. Much of the shortfall would be addressed through MaineCare reductions. Additional cuts of more than $80 million for fiscal 2013, which starts July 1 of this year, are to be considered later in the session.

As approved by the Appropriations Committee, the budget reduces payments to childless adults by freezing enrollments, and reduces the income threshold for parents of children on MaineCare to 133 percent of the poverty level, affecting more than 14,000 parents.

State officials say 133 percent of poverty level for a household of four is $30,657.

Also, reimbursement rates would be reduced for some MaineCare services, such as physical therapy and occupational therapy.

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