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Legislative Democrats rip last-minute GOP spending plan

BDN File | BDN
BDN File | BDN
Speaker of the House Mark Eves, D-North Berwick, talks on the phone in the State House in Augusta, Jan. 14, 2016.

AUGUSTA, Maine — An 11th-hour House Republican supplemental budget and conditions attached to it met strong opposition from Democrats in the Maine Legislature late Thursday.

House Speaker Mark Eves, D-North Berwick, said House Minority Leader Ken Fredette, R-Newport, offered the budget proposal that includes nearly all the items that were in a spending package that passed the House earlier this week but was rejected by Republicans who opposed its funding sources — mainly surplus tax revenue.

Republicans have said they want all of the surplus revenue to be directed to the state’s budget stabilization or “rainy day” fund.

The $18 million Republican proposal includes funding to increase the pay for state law enforcement and direct care workers at the state’s two psychiatric hospitals and funding for county jails. The package includes $3 million in funding for a program that would distribute food, including seafood, harvested in Maine to the state’s food bank system for people who face food insecurity.

But Republican House leaders said the breakdown of the funding in their proposal, as it was being distributed by Democrats, was not fully accurate.

Rep. Jeff Timberlake, R-Turner, a member of the Legislature’s budget-writing Appropriations Committee, said the funding sources identified were not correct.

“House Republicans have said from the beginning that we will not support any new spending and our plan keeps that promise,” Fredette said in a prepared statement late Thursday. “It’s not surprising that the tax-and-spend liberals in the Maine Legislature would rather add new spending to accomplish essentially the same goals.”

Based on documents provided by Senate Democratic staff, the House Republicans’ proposal uses part of a projected increase in federal Medicaid matching funds, estimated to be between $30 million and $40 million in 2017.

Eves said the Republican proposal came with conditions that lawmakers pass no other spending bills and that the new Republican proposal be voted on as a single package and not broken apart.

Eves said he and leaders in the House Democratic caucus and the Senate Republican caucus who agreed to the previous plan, which tapped about $9 million from surplus revenue, were left scratching their heads over the new offer because House Republicans insisted earlier in the week that each of the bills that required funding be voted on individually.

Eves and Senate Minority Leader Justin Alfond, D-Portland, said they agreed to that and intend to stick to that trajectory and would vote each bill up or down on its own merits.

Eves also said Thursday that Republicans could offer amendments to each bill if they wanted to propose alternative funding sources.

He said that under the new scenario, the Legislature probably would end up spending more money than had been worked out under the previous supplemental proposal.

“Now we are just going to see where the chips fall,” Eves said. “It’s a little irresponsible to slap together a proposal at this late hour because they now don’t want to take votes on the individual bills.”

Eves said the House Republican strategy sets up a risky gambit that a whole slate of bills that Republicans and Democrats had agreed were important priorities for the state could end up failing.

Alfond said the late proposal by House Republicans and LePage with attached demands was unreasonable, especially after Senate Republicans had agreed to a supplemental budget plan.

 



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