AUGUSTA, Maine — A bill calling for $29 million in new spending for the current fiscal year was sent Thursday to Gov. Paul LePage following near-unanimous support from the Maine House and Senate.
The supplemental budget bill as originally proposed by LePage included $7.1 million for the University of Maine System, including $5 million to help the system maintain a freeze on its tuition; $7 million for the Limestone-based Maine Military Authority to continue work on an underbid contract to refurbish transit busses; and $4.9 million to rehabilitate fish hatcheries.
The bill also calls for the transfer of $35 million in end-of-year surplus funds to the state’s Budget Stabilization Fund, which is also known as the rainy day fund.
During deliberations, Republicans and Democrats agreed to amend the bill to include $4.8 million in state and federal money to provide medication-assisted treatment to approximately 400 Mainers who are addicted to opiates this year.
“I was pleased that members of both parties, in the House and Senate, were able to work together with the governor to make it right,” said Sen. Cathy Breen, D-Falmouth, the only Democratic senator on the budget committee, who authored the amendment. “The new funding in this spending package is not a silver bullet. It won’t end this public health epidemic.”
Rep. Jeff Timberlake, R-Turner, a member of the Appropriations Committee, said he supported the budget even though he usually votes against additional spending.
“It was a good budget,” he said during debate in the House. “The money allocated to the opioid crisis was a good idea, however there is a bit more that comes into play. We are only going to be rehabilitating about 10 percent of the opioid abusers with this money, at best. … We need to bring back a ‘just say no’ program or a more expensive DARE program.”
LePage has not indicated how he will act on the budget bill but Health and Human Services Commissioner Mary Mayhew advocated for the new addiction treatment money in late February. The money will primarily be routed to patients through their primary care physicians. The plan will require emergency state rulemaking as well as federal approval because it involves some federal Medicaid money.
Rep. Donna Bailey, D-Saco, was the only lawmaker from either chamber to vote against the bill.
LePage has 10 days to sign the bill, veto it or let it go into law without his signature. Meanwhile, the Legislature continues preliminary deliberations on LePage’s $6.8 billion biennial budget bill, which covers the two-year period beginning July 1, 2017.