Lawmakers agree to trim DHHS budget but leave major decisions for deadline day

Posted June 06, 2013, at 5:59 a.m.

AUGUSTA, Maine — Lawmakers on the Appropriations Committee cut numerous health and human services programs and hospital funding during a late-night flurry of amendments Wednesday to Gov. Paul LePage’s $6.3 billion biennial budget proposal.

Among the approved amendments was a cut of 1.4 percent across a range of programs in the Department of Health and Human Services, which was offered by Rep. Kathleen Chase, R-Wells, who is the ranking Republican on the committee. The reduction in funding, which would save about $19.7 million over the biennium, would not apply to some of the department’s largest expenses, such as Mainecare, medical care providers, hospitals, developmental and independent support services, foster care and the adoption assistance program.

Sen. Patrick Flood, R-Winthrop, and Sen. Emily Cain, D-Orono, presented the framework of an amendment that involves the state’s tax-and-match program, which taxes providers of Medicaid services, such as hospitals, and uses the revenue to cover some of the state’s match of federal Medicaid dollars to those same providers. Flood said the amendment, which would alter the base year that the formula is calculated from, is a temporary measure that would save the state at least $2.5 million. Flood said the measure needs more work before being brought back to the committee for a vote on Thursday.

Also up for a possible committee vote Thursday is an amendment by Rep. Michael Carey, D-Lewiston, that has to do with a property tax credit. The details were not discussed Wednesday night before the committee adjourned at nearly midnight.

Thursday will be a day of pivotal 11th-hour fiscal decisions if the committee intends to send the its final recommendation to the full Legislature by the end of the day, which has been its stated goal. Still left to complete are numerous budget lines, including major decisions about municipal revenue sharing and property tax relief programs in which LePage proposes deep cuts and a vigorous attempt by Democrats to give raises to state workers who have had their merit and longevity pay frozen for more than four years.

Those initiatives and others depend on a compromise between Democrats and Republicans for either more cuts in other areas of the budget or tax increases, such as temporarily raising the sales tax from 5 percent to 6 percent. Recent deliberations in those areas stalled when Republicans said they would not consider any tax increases.

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