June 24, 2018
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LePage again warns lawmakers that current budget could run dry

By Scott Thistle, Sun Journal

AUGUSTA, Maine — Just hours after the Maine Senate voted for a bill that would expand the state’s Medicaid program, known as MaineCare, Republican Gov. Paul LePage said he was concerned Democratic leaders had lost sight of fixing the state’s current budget shortfall.

LePage said in a prepared statement he was concerned that if lawmakers didn’t move quickly to act on a plan to balance the budget for the fiscal year that ends June 30, the Department of Health and Human Services would be unable to pay for current MaineCare expenses.

“Democratic leaders have been solely focused on expanding welfare to cover people with no disabilities. They have forgotten that the bills need to be paid for Mainers who are already on Medicaid,” LePage said.

LePage met Wednesday with Senate President Justin Alfond, D-Portland, and House Speaker Mark Eves, D-North Berwick, as well as Senate Minority Leader Michael Thibodeau, R-Winterport, and Assistant House Minority Leader Alex Willette, R-Mapleton, on the 2013 budget.

Lawmakers on the Legislature’s budget-writing Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee are in the final throes of working out a budget compromise that includes the last month of this fiscal year and the two-year fiscal cycle that begins July 1. On Thursday, the committee worked late into the night in hopes of completing a budget package.

LePage said if the budget is not balanced by June 19, DHHS will not have the money to pay for MaineCare costs for the current year. He also noted that lawmakers had combined the three budget years of 2013, 2014 and 2015 and urged them to separate 2013 and pass a plan to balance it quickly.

“DHHS will not be able to pay for services for our most vulnerable Mainers,” LePage said.

LePage presented a change package for the 2013 budget in May that included $40 million in additional revenues from a revised state revenue forecast.

His proposal includes payment of $35 million to pay Medicaid bills through July 1, $3 million to help Maine dairy farmers and another $1 million for legal services for the poor.

Alfond said late Thursday that the Legislature wasn’t going to pull the 2013 fix out of a budget package that was nearly complete. He said LePage was advised of that Wednesday and seemed accepting of it.

“We just shared with him that we were a day, maybe a day and a half, away from completing a budget, where all his initiatives in the change package are fully funded,” Alfond said.

Alfond said Democrats and LePage actually were in agreement.

“His philosophy is that we should pay our bills, and that’s the same philosophy that Democrats believe in also,” Alfond said.

Alfond said Thursday evening that lawmakers were hours away from completing that work.

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