Maine budget panel OKs $29M package funding addiction treatment, higher ed

Posted Feb. 24, 2017, at 11:43 a.m.
Last modified Feb. 24, 2017, at 12:20 p.m.

AUGUSTA, Maine — The Maine Legislature’s budget committee unanimously approved a $29 million emergency spending package Friday that funds addiction treatment and higher education and bails out a state-run equipment refurbishing outfit in Aroostook County.

That recommendation puts the uncontroversial supplemental budget package for this year — a compromise between Gov. Paul LePage and legislative leaders in both parties — on track to sail through the full Legislature in votes that could happen as early as next week.

The highest-profile item is a modest step in tackling Maine’s opiate crisis, leveraging $4.8 million in state and federal money to provide medication-assisted treatment to 400 Mainers this year. More than one person per day died of drug overdoses in Maine last year, an all-time record.

The proposal was developed by the Maine Department of Health and Human Services after a push from Senate Democrats, including Minority Leader Troy Jackson of Allagash. It would be built on an integrated, outpatient model run by existing providers that gives medication, counseling and other services to patients.

“Let’s see if this model works,” said Sen. James Hamper, R-Oxford, the co-chairman of the Legislature’s Appropriations and Financial Services Committee. “That’s a good way to start.”

The budget also would give $7.1 million to the University of Maine System, including $5 million to maintain a tuition freeze. The Maine Military Authority would get $7 million to help the Limestone-based outfit recover from an underbid contract to refurbish Massachusetts transit buses.

Another $4.9 million would go toward rehabilitating fish hatcheries and the package also includes a $35 million transfer into the state’s surplus account.

The committee’s agreement precedes what will be a more contentious issue: how the Legislature will find consensus around LePage’s two-year budget proposal, in which the Republican governor has proposed drastic changes to Maine’s tax and welfare structures.

“I’m very pleased with the work the committee did, and the optimist in me thinks it bodes well for our future ability to work together on these very difficult issues,” Rep. Drew Gattine, D-Westbrook, the other committee co-chairman, said.

 

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