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Emergency budget bill proposed to close $5M shortfall this budget year

Posted March 04, 2012, at 2:44 p.m.
Last modified March 04, 2012, at 3:21 p.m.

AUGUSTA, Maine — Leaders of the Legislature’s Appropriations Committee are proposing an immediate emergency bill to take care of the nearly $5 million revenue shortfall for the budget year that runs out June 30.

“We feel we should take care of this now so we can move on to the other budget bills we have to deal with,” said Rep. Patrick Flood, R-Winthrop, co-chairman of the panel. He is introducing a joint order on Tuesday to have the panel report out a budget bill aimed at filling the revenue shortfall this week.

He said in addition to the measure to fill the shortfall for this year, they have to deal with the $86 million Medicaid shortfall in the second year of the two-year budget and supplemental budget to take care of spending needs outside of the Medicaid program.

“We will be looking for a solution for that, we don’t have one yet,” said Sen. Richard Rosen, R-Bucksport, the other co-chairman of the panel. He said the panel intends to act quickly on the bill and will continue to work on the 2013 Medicaid shortfall legislation as they deal with the immediate revenue shortfall.

“I am going to trust you will find the money from areas that will not cause concern,” said Sen. Dawn Hill, D-York, during a meeting of committee leaders Friday afternoon. Both Flood and Rosen said that is the only way the bill can get swift passage.

“I have got some debt service money identified,” Flood said, “that is really a gift. We will be meeting with [Finance Commissioner Sawin Millett] to help us identify funds.”

Rep. Peggy Rotundo, D-Lewiston, said she believes the cuts in spending from the last few months of the budget year can be found to solve the revenue problem.

“It makes it easier for us to deal with that and then move on to the more difficult budget,” she said.

Rosen said there are always lapsed balances at the end of a budget year and he believes with Millett’s help the panel can identify those accounts that have more funds than needed for the remainder of the budget year and take care of the revenue shortfall as well as pay the non-Medicaid bills for the rest of the year.

The measure passed last month provided the funds to pay expected Medicaid expenses through June 30. Rotundo said the remaining two budgets will be more difficult with the proposed Medicaid cuts made by Gov. Paul LePage.

“I have said the proposed cuts in Medicaid are dangerous and irresponsible,” she said. “There are proposals Democrats will just not accept.”

For example, she said, eliminating the funding for the drugs for the elderly program is a “nonstarter” for Democrats, as is elimination of early childhood education programs. She said many of the proposals to “throw people off health care” will not gain Democratic support.

“There are some where there is clearly disagreement,” Rosen said. “There are others where we ought to be able to work out some agreements, some consensus.”

He said he is not giving up on working with Democrats to achieve agreement on as much as possible in the Medicaid budget. He said the Medicaid budget may well end up as a party-line split but not without a sincere effort to reach agreement.

“We are working in our caucus to come up with alternatives to these proposals and we will work with our Republican colleagues where we can to reach compromise,” Rotundo said. But she said many of the governor’s proposals simply are not worth discussing because they have no support among Democrats.

Rosen said the two partisan caucuses will share ideas and positions later in the week, with a target of completing work on the Medicaid budget by midmonth. They expect the supplemental budget for meeting non-Medicaid needs will be submitted by then by LePage.

All four of the committee leaders expressed a desire to achieve a bipartisan budget to pay other state government bills over the last two weeks of the month.

“It certainly is going to be busy,” Rosen said.

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