Disappointed by changes, LePage to let budget become law without signature

Maine Gov. Paul LePage delivers his State of the State address in in the house chambers in Augusta on Feb. 5, 2013
Maine Gov. Paul LePage delivers his State of the State address in in the house chambers in Augusta on Feb. 5, 2013 Buy Photo
Posted Feb. 22, 2013, at 4:49 p.m.
Last modified Feb. 22, 2013, at 6:27 p.m.

AUGUSTA, Maine — Gov. Paul LePage will let the $153 million supplemental budget approved overwhelmingly by lawmakers Thursday become law without his signature, he said Friday.

In a letter to legislators, LePage said he had “deep concerns” with the budget bill that landed on his desk and signaled that his administration might have to return to the Legislature with another budget-balancing package before the end of the current budget year on June 30.

“Specifically, the funding requests brought forward by the Department of Health and Human Services were ignored by millions of dollars without any justification,” he wrote, referring to new spending the department said it needed to upgrade the state’s Medicaid billing system to comply with federal requirements. “The committees that worked on this bill arbitrarily decided to not fully fund our requirements because they wanted to restore funding in other programs. That is not a responsible way to budget and I am concerned the Legislature may have forced us to return with another request before the year ends.”

The House on Thursday voted 129-14 and the Senate voted unanimously, 35-0, to approve the $153 million plan to plug a budget hole in the state’s Medicaid program and account for flagging state revenues. Approval by the state Legislature followed a unanimous vote last week in the budget-writing Appropriations Committee.

The budget that met with approval in the House and Senate differed substantially from the package LePage submitted in early January, reversing many of the cuts the governor proposed to health and human services programs.

“Taking money from various other programs to pay for one we cannot afford is irresponsible,” LePage wrote. “Instead of dialing for dollars or robbing Peter to pay Paul, it is time to summon the courage to make real, structural changes.”

Lawmakers in the Democratically controlled Legislature reversed millions of dollars in service cuts LePage said were necessary to balance the books and to start down the road of reforming state programs in health and human services.

The final budget didn’t include LePage administration proposals that would have capped General Assistance payments to municipalities at $10.1 million for the year and cut $1.75 million from the state’s “Drugs for the Elderly” program, which provides senior citizens with prescription drug assistance.

Lawmakers also ultimately opposed scaling back payments to some substance abuse treatment and mental health service providers, reversed $5 million in proposed cuts that would have reduced reimbursement rates for rural hospitals and outpatient service providers, and voted against a $232,000 cut to a program that helps low-income residents meet a deductible that’s necessary before they become eligible for health insurance through Medicaid.

The supplemental budget also restored half of a $1.4 million cut the LePage administration proposed for subsidies to families that adopt children from state care but don’t qualify for federal subsidies. And the final budget included smaller cuts than the administration proposed for senior citizen services such as Meals on Wheels.

In his letter, LePage called on lawmakers “to be willing to say ‘no’” as they take up his proposal for the next two-year budget, which already has come under intense criticism for the cuts it proposes to municipal aid.

“We need to be honest that government is larger than we can afford,” he wrote. “It may not be easy and it may not be popular, but it is time to stop hiding from tough choices.”

House Majority Leader Seth Berry, D-Bowdoinham, said Friday the supplemental budget was “the product of bipartisan work.

“In the judgment of the Legislature, it makes more responsible choices than those the governor originally proposed,” he said.

House Minority Leader Ken Fredette, R-Newport, said Friday the supplemental budget defers some difficult decisions to the upcoming two-year budget.

“There’s going to be a real battle on this biennial budget and, quite frankly, government shutdown is something that’s a possibility,” Fredette said on WCSH 6, a Portland television station.

Berry said it’s too early and unproductive to be discussing a government shutdown.

“It’s a real surprise to hear people, a Republican leader no less, talking about a shutdown when we just came off an overwhelmingly bipartisan budget,” he said. “We should be looking forward to the same kind of collaboration in good faith in the next round, not engaging in that kind of Washington-style politics.”

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