June 23, 2018
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After hours behind closed doors, Maine budget panel leaves most work undone

BDN | BDN
BDN | BDN
By Christopher Cousins, BDN Staff
Updated:

The Legislature’s budget committee convened Wednesday after hours of negotiations to agree to advance bills funding raises for direct-care workers and the state’s share of county jail costs for the coming fiscal year.

Dozens of other bills that have been passed by the Legislature but not funded, including a Medicaid expansion bill and a number of opioid addiction measures, were left unaddressed for now.

The panel voted unanimously late Wednesday in favor of three bills — LD 643, LD 967 and LD 1490 — which it wrapped into a supplemental budget bill, LD 924.

Wednesday’s meeting wasn’t without some tension, with Rep. Jeff Timberlake, R-Turner, at one point complaining that the county jail funding bill wasn’t voted down after being absorbed in the budget bill, as he said was agreed upon in negotiations.

“Now we’re leaving another bill open that’s possibly another game or another move that can be made on this, and maybe more funding,” he said. “That wasn’t what we agreed upon.”

Rep. Drew Gattine, D-Westbrook, who co-chairs the committee, said he wanted to keep the jail funding bill alive in case lawmakers want to revisit an increase in state funding for jails.

“If the purpose of the committee is to kill that bill, I don’t really have a strong feeling one way or the other,” Gattine said.

The committee then voted on party lines to table the bill, with Republicans against.

Lawmakers have been at an impasse on which bills to fund since the 128th Legislature adjourned on May 2 — and arguably long before that. There has been agreement on a number of them — ranging from drug addiction prevention programs to continuing raises given to the state’s direct-care workers last year. However, a $3.8 million bill to cover Medicaid expansion startup administrative costs, supported by Democrats, and Republicans’ demand that scheduled increases in Maine’s minimum wage be slowed, have proven to be poison pills.

Democrats and Senate Republicans have favored putting them in a spending package subject to a single vote. House Republicans have blocked that approach and called for each of the spending bills to be considered individually, a move that would almost certainly spell veto doom for the Medicaid expansion funding measure.

There has been little or no movement in negotiations, until last week when lawmakers hinted the Appropriations Committee would convene in an effort to move some of the bills to the full Legislature for consideration. The committee was scheduled to meet at 2 p.m. but did not gather until 9 p.m. Wednesday.

If the budget committee can agree on a deal that is acceptable to all four of the Legislature’s caucuses, the next likely step would be for legislative leaders to call for a special legislative session. That would require a majority vote of all four political caucuses in the Legislature, plus Rep. Ralph Chapman of Brooksville, the Legislature’s lone Green Independent.

House Republicans have refused to support extending the session or a special session until various demands were met, most notably the removal of the Medicaid expansion bill from the spending package.

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