January 16, 2019
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GOP leader: Dems want it both ways with DHHS budget

AUGUSTA, Maine — The ranking Republican on the state’s health committee says her Democratic colleagues want it both ways after approving Gov. Paul LePage’s new spending proposals for the Department of Health and Human Services, but not cuts he wanted to pay for them.

The Legislature’s Health and Human Services Committee on Monday wrapped its review of LePage’s 2016-2017 budget proposal with a largely party-line vote to reject a $47 million cut to a state program that helps seniors pay for medicine, as proposed by the governor.

“The Governor’s proposal gives tax breaks to the wealthy and corporations, while forcing seniors to choose between paying for their food or medicine. These priorities are wrong,” said Rep. Drew Gattine, D-Westbrook, co-chairman of the HHS committee.

Only one Republican, Rep. Karen Vachon of Scarborough, joined the committee’s majority Democrats in opposing the cuts. Last week, Democrats on the committee also voted against a LePage plan to cut $20 million from cancer screening and smoking cessation programs.

LePage and legislative Republicans have pitched the cuts as means to pay for new spending at DHHS, including $70 million in additional funds for Maine nursing homes and more than $46 million to eliminate waitlists for home- and community-based services for Mainers with physical and mental disabilities.

The committee voted in favor of both those spending initiatives. This prompted Rep. Deborah Sanderson, R-Chelsea, the committee’s ranking Republican, to say the Democrats were trying to have it both ways.

“By voting in all the new spending initiatives like the waitlist and funding nursing homes without providing spending offsets, the Democrats have continued business as usual which have created structural [funding] gaps,” she said.

The committee’s recommendations now move to the Democrat-controlled Appropriations Committee, where the most meaningful budget negotiations take place.

Lawmakers on that committee have the responsibility of finding funding for any new spending, and given staunch Democratic opposition to LePage’s DHHS cuts, there’s little reason to believe they’ll go along with the governor’s proposed realignment of health spending.

Follow Mario Moretto on Twitter at @riocarmine.

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