AUGUSTA, Maine — Gov. Paul LePage has vetoed a supplemental budget bill that was crafted by the Legislature and supported by majorities in both parties. The Republican governor rejected the bill because he said it includes “gimmicks” to balance the books.
“I cannot support a budget that uses gimmicks to keep it balanced,” wrote LePage in his veto letter.
Democrats said LePage’s thoughts on the budget bill have been made “irrelevant” by his refusal to participate in crafting it.
“He demonstrates a lack of understanding for what this budget does and how government works,” said Sen. Dawn Hill, D-Cape Neddick, Senate chairwoman of the Legislature’s Appropriations Committee, who said she expects the budget veto to be overridden when lawmakers return to Augusta on May 1 to consider this veto and others. “In fact, the very thing he calls a ‘gimmick’ is actually a smart solution and it was proposed by members of his own party.”
LePage’s veto centers on a plan hatched late in the legislative session that would delay payments to Medicaid service providers in Maine by up to two weeks. The plan delays one payment from fiscal year 2016 to fiscal year 2017, saving the state an estimated $20 million in the current biennium.
“Hundreds of thousands of MaineCare-eligible citizens and tens of thousands of health care providers that serve them all depend on a MaineCare program that has adequate funding to pay the bills for services rendered,” wrote LePage. “This bill is another example of kicking the can down the road so the controversial and tough decisions can be made after the next election.”
LD 1858, which patched an approximately $30 million hole in the current biennial budget, passed through the Legislature with votes of 136-8 in the House and 35-0 in the Senate.
Lawmakers considered the budget bill a victory because it was the first supplemental budget in recent memory for which there was no upfront participation from the governor’s office. LePage has been saying since last fall that he would not submit a supplemental budget because his original biennial budget proposal was amended by the Legislature to include tax increases and, in his view, was not balanced because it called for a study group to identify and close tax loopholes as a money-saving initiative.
Lawmakers also celebrated the fact that the budget bill would increase funding for people with developmental disabilities, which would reduce waitlists for services that are in some cases more than two years long and increase funding for nursing homes. But that money wouldn’t begin flowing until the end of the current fiscal year in June 2015, raising LePage’s ire.
“The so-called funding is not being made available until [fiscal year] 2016,” wrote LePage. “This budget fails to provide funding adequate to eliminate the waitlists or in time to keep at-risk nursing facilities open.”
LePage also blasted legislators for other decisions made this year, which he has been complaining about for months. They include finding funding for LePage’s plan to hire more personnel to fight drug crimes, rejecting several proposals by the governor for what he called welfare reform, enactment of a bill that would provide rebates to Mainers who install solar panels and rejection of a LePage-backed bill that would have allowed young teenagers to work in movie theaters or bowling alleys.
“This budget sets priorities based on a partisan political agenda, not on the best interest of Mainers,” wrote LePage.
Rep. Peggy Rotundo, D-Lewiston, the House chairwoman of the Appropriations Committee, said LePage’s entrance into the budget debate is too late.
“It’s no surprise to see the governor veto the bipartisan measure,” said Rotundo in a written statement. “He has refused to participate in solving the state’s budget problems from day one. If he had items he wanted funded or didn’t like our approach, he should have worked with lawmakers.”
Also on Friday, LePage vetoed LD 1468, which would require the Public Utilities Commission to study the prospect of increasing the state’s renewable energy portfolio.
“While this administration will continue to promote the expansion of affordable energy, I do not believe this study is the best mechanism to carry out that objective and would unnecessarily add to the workload of the Public Utilities Commission,” wrote LePage.