AUGUSTA, Maine — On Tuesday, the Maine Legislature easily passed a $32 million state budget fix for 2015.
The House passed the bill on a vote of 136-8, and the Senate followed suit soon after by passing the bill 35-0.
Lawmakers wanted to put the bill on Gov. Paul LePage’s desk by the time they adjourn later this week.
LePage has already threatened a veto because of the way the bill pushes off payments to hospitals and other Medicaid providers for up to 12 days. LePage could use his line-item veto on the bill.
But key lawmakers, both Democrat and Republican, on the Legislature’s budget-writing Appropriations Committee touted the bill before the House vote.
Rep. Peggy Rotundo, D-Lewiston, the House Chair of the budget-writing Appropriations Committee, noted the bill begins the process of eliminating a Department of Health and Human Services waitlist for some disabled Mainers seeking health care coverage under the state’s Medicaid program.
The bill provides new funding for increasing staff and training at key state psychiatric hospitals, and it restores funding to local schools and Maine’s university system.
The bill also increases Medicaid reimbursement rates for many of the state’s nursing homes that were losing money on the care of severely disabled individuals.
“Our bipartisan proposal provides critical funding for seniors, individuals with disabilities and for those struggling with mental illness,” Rotundo said. “By passing this budget, we can reduce and eliminate the DHHS waitlist so many of us have spoken passionately about. Hundreds of Maine people with disabilities and their families will now have the relief of knowing they can get the care and services they desperately need.”
A provision of the bill offered by Sen. Patrick Flood, R-Winthrop, also produces about $20 million of annual savings for the state.
The bill needs at least two-thirds of the Legislature to pass into law.
Rep. Kathleen Chase, R-Wells, the lead House Republican on the Appropriations Committee, also said the bill deserved her colleagues’ support.
Chase said in the scheme of state budget fixes, a $32 million solution was relatively small.
“But I can tell you it delivers much needed benefits and with credible funding,” Chase said. “That’s the best you can probably say in any supplemental budget.”
Both Rotundo and Chase thanked their respective colleagues for working long hours and in a bipartisan solution to craft the bill that received unanimous support from the Appropriations Committee.
A pair of amendments to the bill offered on the House floor were fended off Tuesday as lawmakers voted to indefinitely postpone those amendments.
In the Senate, lead Democrats and Republicans on the committee also hailed the bill.
Sen. Dawn Hill, D-Cape Neddick, the Senate chair of the committee, said most budget bills were not things that made lawmakers happy. They were bills of necessity and that usually meant somebody was unhappy about the outcome.
But, Hill said Tuesday, she was happy about the bill passed by the committee and the Legislature.
“So here’s the kicker for today,” Hill said. “I am happy about this budget, I am really happy. Because what’s not to like about taking all the developmentally disabled of the waiver [waitlist]?”
She said raising nursing home reimbursement rates was going to keep them available to care for the state’s most vulnerable.
“So they can take care of our elderly who have no other choices and are alone in life and really need a place to be taken care of 24/7,” Hill said.
It was sentiment echoed by the lead Senate Republican on the committee, Patrick Flood of Augusta.
“Like the Senator from York, I’m pretty happy,” Flood said. “Usually you kind of come to these things kind of half happy, but this time around, I feel darn good that we were able to accomplish these things.”
Flood, who is not seeking reelection, also extended thanks to his colleagues in a somewhat emotional message.
In his time in the Legislature, he said he learned that true working relationships were always what produced the most meaningful legislation.
“In one respect to me nothing else really matters,” Flood said choking up. “It’s not necessary that you love the people you work, with but it probably doesn’t hurt.”
The bill heads to LePage’s desk.
The governor has several options. He can veto the bill in its entirety, allow it to pass into law without his signature or could line-item veto portions of the bill. If he vetoes the entire bill, two-thirds of both the House and Senate would have to vote to overturn the veto. If LePage line-item vetoes the bill, lawmakers need only a simple majority to overrule him.
The Legislature is expected to return during a short special session in May to take up any veto override votes issued within the 10 days after they adjourn later this week.