AUGUSTA, Maine — Gov. Paul LePage’s bill to bolster the state’s efforts to fight drug crimes died early Friday morning because of a lack of funding.
Rep. Peggy Rotundo, D-Lewiston, co-chair of the Legislature’s Appropriations Committee, said she and just about every other lawmaker supported the bill but that its failure was because of the lack of funding.
LD 1811, An Act to Appropriate and Allocate Funds to Strengthen the State’s Efforts to Investigate, Prosecute and Punish Persons Committing Drug Crimes, was a major initiative announced by LePage in his State of the State address in February.
A version of the bill that had been amended by the Legislature’s Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee would have added two new District Court judges, two prosecutors in the attorney general’s office and 10 new MDEA agents, plus $750,000 for existing drug addiction treatment programs at a total cost of about $2.25 million. But the budget-writing Appropriations Committee could not find that money as it spent the final days of the legislative session sorting through dozens of bills competing for a limited amount of state funding.
LePage’s original bill called for more new positions with a cost pegged at around $3.2 million.
“It’s clear that lawmakers misplaced their priorities this session by refusing to take action on a bill that would have combated the drug crimes epidemic,” said LePage in a written statement. “The bill had broad bipartisan support, including endorsement from the judicial branch and law enforcement agencies across the state. Lawmakers have a major disconnect with the Maine people who want real reform. I find it appalling that they have neglected their duty to provide for basic public safety and safe streets.”
However, some Democrats and advocacy groups suggested that LePage’s bill focused too heavily on enforcement without providing adequate resources for treatment.
According to LePage, the bill succumbed to a lack of funding in the final hours of the legislative session, which ended around 1 a.m. Friday. LePage said part of the impetus for the bill came from drug awareness summits he held earlier this year in Westbrook and Auburn.
“This bill came as a result of those discussions,” said LePage. “It’s inexcusable that the Legislature ignored this solution, proving that they are all talk and no action.”
Rotundo said the price tag on the bill was simply too much given the state’s financial situation.
“It had nothing to do with the content of the bill,” said Rotundo Friday evening. “There was no money on the table to fund bills and this was a very expensive bill. The governor did not bring forward sources of funding for it. … It was a unanimous vote of Democrats and Republicans on our committee not to fund it but it wasn’t a reflection of anybody’s feelings about the bill.”
Dozens of bills died this year because state government lacked the money to fund them. Lawmakers on the Appropriations Committee spent months working on a supplemental budget to close some $90 million in revenue shortfalls in the current biennium.
LePage became the first governor in recent memory who refused to draft a supplemental budget bill, in which he could have proposed funding for this initiative and others.