Maine Democrats call GOP budget cuts"irresponsible" as GOP says DHHS growth "unsustainable"

AUGUSTA — On an 8-4 party-line vote, the Legislature's Appropriations Committee on Thursday passed a supplemental budget for the Department of Health and Human Services that would close an estimated $83 million budget shortfall.

(AP Photo/Kennebec Journal, Joe Phelan)

Senate President Kevin Raye, R-Perry, left, and House Speaker Robert Nutting, R-Oakland, hold a news conference Thursday at the State House in Augusta to announce a plan to close an $83 million gap at the Department of Health and Human Services.

Members of the Legislature's Republican majority said the measure would make what they consider "structural changes" to the DHHS budget. It also would remove about 7,000 19- and 20-year-olds from MaineCare, the state's low-income health insurance program.

The spending plan reduces the state's share of funding for Head Start programs by $2 million. It changes income guidelines for the state's senior prescription drug program by pushing out about 1,500 people.

It also introduces a new income-tax break for pensioners and creates sales-tax exemptions for commercial greenhouse and forestry purchases beginning in 2014.

It keeps a Republican promise to restore about $5 million in funding for Maine's largest cities' General Assistance programs. General Assistance is a city program that helps the needy with cash grants for specific purposes, including emergency fuel for heat or temporary rent.

The full Legislature is expected to vote on the budget proposal Tuesday, May 15, when it reconvenes in special session to fix the DHHS budget.

All Democrats on the Appropriations Committee voted against the cuts, which Rep. Peggy Rotundo, D-Lewiston, said were "extreme and irresponsible."

Rotundo, the lead House Democrat on the committee, said the reduction in eligibility for health and welfare programs for both the young and the old would hurt Maine's vulnerable residents.

She said she couldn't accept a proposal that cuts taxes for some while eliminating critical health care services for others.

“The Republicans are making dangerous cuts that will harm seniors, children and people with disabilities while passing more unfunded tax cuts,” Rotundo said.

Other Democratic lawmakers on the panel said the state's revenue forecast was on an uptick and suggested that growing revenue projections could offset the need to eliminate state benefits for the populations outlined under the Republican plan.

Democrats said their plan also would pick up the effort to stop fraud, especially by health care providers.

Panel member Rep. John Martin, D-Eagle Lake, said the GOP argument that the measure was about closing an emergency shortfall in the department's budget "lost all credibility" with the proposed tax breaks added.

“We’d all like to have more money in our pockets," Martin said, "but none of us would want to take it from our grandmother’s purse or our children’s piggy banks.”

Sen. Dawn Hill, D-York, said a proposal her caucus was presenting would be about finding savings by running DHHS more efficiently. The Democrats' proposal included depending on revenue forecasts that show the state gaining revenue over the next few years. It also did not end eligibility for any people on state programs.

Democrats say the cuts would affect 24,000 Mainers.

"We took an approach that was about running the department better and delivering services better to those who need them most, and not measuring our success by how many people get thrown off from programs," Hill said, just before the committee voted to approve the Republican proposal and reject the Democrats minority report.

Republicans said they offered a plan that fixed the budget problem in a way that meant ongoing savings in the years to come and in a way that protects the state's most poor and most vulnerable, including children, the elderly and those with disabilities.

Earlier in the day, House Speaker Robert Nutting, R-Oakland, and Senate President Kevin Raye, R-Perry, said continued MaineCare growth in the state's DHHS budget was unsustainable. They said efforts by Democrats to expand the program to include more and more people were jeopardizing it for those who truly needed it.

"MaineCare has grown from 12.4 percent of the state budget in 1998 to 21 percent of the state budget now," Raye said.

While recent state revenue forecasts show the state could receive an additional $49 million from taxes this fiscal year, Republicans were resisting using too much of that money to help plug the gap because, they said, it wouldn't solve the long-term problem of unsustainable growth in the MaineCare program.

"This Legislature will not repeat the mistakes of the past by using a one-time windfall to put a Band-Aid over our broken system, in the hopes that the problem will go away," Nutting said.

The GOP proposal includes about $6.7 million in newly forecast revenue.

Nutting said there were no discussions with Democrats about what the Legislature would do if LePage again used his veto pen on specific provisions in the proposal, as he did in April.

Adrienne Bennett, press secretary for LePage, said that because the Republican proposal provides funding to help pay down the state's debt to hospitals and achieves ongoing savings in DHHS, the governor was encouraged.

"This proposal moves us well toward what has long been part of the governor's goals: for the state to spend wisely and for us to pay our bills," Bennett said.

She said the Republican plan matches LePage's promise to protect services for the state's most vulnerable and does so in a responsible manner.

If the final bill that comes out of the Legislature next week looks like the GOP proposal, it is unlikely the governor will veto any part of it, Bennett said.

She said the governor did not necessarily like the restoration of General Assistance funding for cities, but it was a compromise he could accept.

LePage wants to reform a complicated General Assistance formula that helps Maine's larger cities — which spend the most on General Assistance — more than smaller municipalities. He wants state funding to be even for all but also has said cities must control their spending on local welfare programs.

Bennett said reducing the level of state spending for General Assistance was still a goal for the administration and that she expected it to come up again when the Legislature convenes in January 2013.

sthistle@sunjournal.com

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FRANK EARLEY's picture

This State is being held hostage.........

This State is being held hostage. The twisted Republican mentality is holding the civil liberties of all of us hostage. We have young people being denied health care, young children denied a good start in life, and our elderly relatives are losing their life saving medications.
The Republican stance on Medicaid, (MaineCare) is that at the present levels it is not sustainable. While at the same time we have a Governor whose idiotic reasoning has denied this State the ability to allow thousands more folks to qualify for life saving health insurance. This doesn't make any sense no matter how you look at it.
On one hand we have the Legislature saying we can't continue to provide healthcare to one group of people. seven thousand, 19 and 20 year olds, guilty of nothing more than being young. At the same time we have fifteen hundred older folks who are losing prescription coverage, for nothing more than being old. I won't even mention the Head Start children.
This is Republican Mentality, this is how this State and country are being run. I just can't see the logic in any of it. It's becoming more and more apparent to me, that Republicans are so completely out of touch with reality, They refuse to participate in a program that would bring millions of federal dollars to the State and allow untold thousands affordable health insurance. At the same time they claim the program isn't sustainable and are dropping thousands of people of the rolls. This is just stupid, it's illogical.
I just hope that for all of our sake, we all remember this injustice next year at the ballot box. We can't afford let this kind of lunacy continue........

FRANK EARLEY's picture

This State is being held hostage.........

This State is being held hostage. The twisted Republican mentality is holding the civil liberties of all of us hostage. We have young people being denied health care, young children denied a good start in life, and our elderly relatives are losing their life saving medications.
The Republican stance on Medicaid, (MaineCare) is that at the present levels it is not sustainable. While at the same time we have a Governor whose idiotic reasoning has denied this State the ability to allow thousands more folks to qualify for life saving health insurance. This doesn't make any sense no matter how you look at it.
On one hand we have the Legislature saying we can't continue to provide healthcare to one group of people. seven thousand, 19 and 20 year olds, guilty of nothing more than being young. At the same time we have fifteen hundred older folks who are losing prescription coverage, for nothing more than being old. I won't even mention the Head Start children.
This is Republican Mentality, this is how this State and country are being run. I just can't see the logic in any of it. It's becoming more and more apparent to me, that Republicans are so completely out of touch with reality, They refuse to participate in a program that would bring millions of federal dollars to the State and allow untold thousands affordable health insurance. At the same time they claim the program isn't sustainable and are dropping thousands of people of the rolls. This is just stupid, it's illogical.
I just hope that for all of our sake, we all remember this injustice next year at the ballot box. We can't afford let this kind of lunacy continue........

CRYSTAL WARD's picture

children /poor / elderly?

Cutting $2 million from Head Start the program that helps give poor children a good start in school -- should they just go to work also.---- do we really need to hurt children to cut some more sales taxes?? - when the people taken off Maine Care go to the emergency room and can't pay -- the hospital will shift the cost to the health insurance companies and they will shift it to those of us who pay for our health care and our cost will go up !! you see you will pay for thier health one way or another . I know peole who use the prescription plan and they will have to go without thier meds. or not eat -- Maybe the Republican could start a Medical-PAC to collect money to help these people . In the land of Rich vs. Poor/ middle class the rich win !!!
It's only 24,000 people -- they can fend for themselves --tough luck for the poor-- tax cut (welfare )for the rich .

Mark Brennick's picture

Hey Denis,these people aren't

Hey Denis,these people aren't working to begin with.It's time to stop feeding the animals and let them fend for themselves.

Jason Theriault's picture

"Animals"

Might want to rethink your language there.

Mark Brennick's picture

Hey Denis,these people aren't

Hey Denis,these people aren't working to begin with.It's time to stop feeding the animals and let them fend for themselves.

 's picture

Republicans "irresponsible"?

In my opinion, the Democrats are irresponsible for turning a Social Program intended to help the extreme poor, elderly and disabled,into a insurance program for all who apply. What other states offer to pay for working adults with no children? What other states pay for nineteen and twenty years old adults? Why should taxpayers in Maine be held liable for a program that offers benefits 60% more than the national average, while Federal funds have been cut way back ? We are still in debt to the hospitals for over $500,000,000, The budget will still cover Maine Care cost covering over 300,000 plus citizens, while eliminating 21,000. What was the Democrat's budget plan put into the hands of some members on the Appropriations Committee, with the insistence not to be made public? Why? I would assume it was full of tax hikes, which may seem very unpopular during a election year. We need politicians who will tackle the problems head first, make the hard decisions, without kicking the problems down the road for the next Legislature.We finally have one!

FRANK EARLEY's picture

Hey Steve, you may be exagerating a tad..........

Half a billion owed to hospitals? Don't you think that's just a little exaggerated? How is it that you conservatives can just eliminate something from existence like it never even occurred? You complain about the cost of MaineCare, yet you fail to mention that your governor decided to derail the only program that would have helped pay for Mainecare. The program now is only in danger of failing because of Republican leadership. You just can't keep complaining about the ship sinking, while your drilling holes in the bottom of it....................

Roger Moulton's picture

Hate all politicians but kudos to LePage

I think all politicians are corrupt, yup I said it, each and every single one. I also think Lepage was a Florida resident(in my opinion if you have no vehicles registered in this state but some in Florida you are a Florida resident or you have broken our registration laws). BUT that aside PAUL LEPAGE IS THE FIRST AND ONLY POLITICIAN THAT I HAVE EVER SEEN THAT SAID HE WOULD DO SOMETHING DURING HIS CAMPAIGN AND HE'S ACTUALLY DOING IT REGARDLESS OF WHO DISLIKES HIM. We finally get an honest politician and you all complain. Good for you Mr. Lepage. As far as Dems and Republicans, Dems want to give you all my money so you are dependent on them. Think about it do Dems really want you to better yourselves? My answer is no, if you better yourselves and aren't dependent on them then you might start to vote Republican and this is why the dems keep you down right where they want you- dependent on their social programs. And now Republicans, they only want to help business minded people and the wealthy. Not good for the poor or middle class in most people's eyes but remember these wealthy business people are the ones giving us all jobs. So you take your handouts from your Dems and I'll take a job from my Republicans. Thank god LePage has it in him to make cuts to our social programs it's about time that the ones that are able go make their own darn money.

FRANK EARLEY's picture

I had to read this one a couple times.........

I like the part about all politicians being corrupt. That being said, do you love LePage because he's corrupt, or he did what he said he was going to do.
Not to rain on your parade or anything, but don't you think we need social programs in place for those who need them? You make it sound like only Democrats have their social programs. Republicans are to busy saving hard earned money to be bothered with actually helping their fellow man.
Do you really think everyone living off of a social program, sitting around waiting for their check every month, are just lazy and unwilling to better themselves? Are you really assuming, that if I was to better myself and start getting wealthy, I would just automatically start to vote Republican?
Well, from reading your post, I can see where you would worship the ground LePage walks on. I do hope your happy with that rich Republican job you have.
As for voting Republican, all the money in the world wouldn't move me to vote Republican, their all corrupt...........

Denis Ledoux's picture

Cuts ideological

Budget shortfalls are creations of mentalities. Is there a need or is there not a need for a service? Do we take care of our own or do we abandon our own?"

In a family, when there is a "budget shortfall," parents don't abandon their children because they have a family "budget shortfall." They go out and raise additional revenue—not quit their jobs.

We in Maine are about to see go into effect what might be the largest tax cuts in our history this summer. For most of us, this will add up so little as to be insignificant to our spending potential. For many of us, the cuts will be disastrous. Subsequently, they will add fuel to the Republican circular thinking, "There isn't enough money. We have to be responsible and cut the budgets."

I am astonished to find support for the Republican ideology among the very people who are being screwed. Wake up people. You are being screwed.

FRANK EARLEY's picture

Along party lines....

I am getting so sick of hearing that on just about every vote that comes up. These people have to realize we have more than one party, and just because we now have a governor who dictates what he wants the outcome to be on everything, doesn't make it right.
We need to use different ideologies, and insight, right or wrong, to compromise on a final decision. Republicans ,contrary to any republican, don't know whats best for the people of Maine. They just happen, now, to have enough votes to carry any vote that comes up. A governor who likes to try to intimidate people into voting his way.
Now that idiot is going to take prescription drug coverage away from the elderly. I'd be willing to bet that his next fiasco will be taking artificial limbs away from children. He's already shown that he would harm the elderly to save a few bucks, what won't he do?
I have an elderly Father who takes numerous medications. Thank God he doesn't live in Maine. Without them he would be dead within a week. How many people out there are Republicans, with elderly parents, who live with medical problems can honestly say "I feel that saving a few bucks is worth endangering my Mothers life". You have to start using the brains you were born with, and when LePage says he wants a particular outcome on something, Tell him to go to hell. If you act like robots, your not doing anyone any good.
Don't bother trashing me about this post, for two reasons. One: I don't give a damn,Two: Its my opinion and I'm sticking with it.

 's picture

Frank, if it's only a few

Frank, if it's only a few bucks, than why don't you pay for it ? it's YOUR FATHER, Take care of him. my 87 years old mother was embarrassed when she discovered that she was automatically placed on a social program without being notified that paid for her prescriptions, when she had purchased a insurance program years ago, that covered that.

FRANK EARLEY's picture

The prescription coverage is just the beginning

I'm not concerned about my father, he lives in a state that treats its residents like humans. My concern is for the ones who can't afford to pay a few bucks. They have very few options, yet their being treated like collateral damage. When you have a governor who treats a very poor and needy segment of the community like excess baggage and just throws them out like trash. What really needs to be done come election day is some trash being thrown out of the state house, starting at the top. Don't give me that crap about him doing such a good job for the state. He can't balance the budget the way he's going. He needs jobs that pay livable wages. Anything else is a waste. There's no cash coming in because so many people are unable to find a job, and the ones who have jobs aren't being paid enough to put any money back into the system. How are children supposed to help their aging parents, when they can't even afford the rent. I guess you could call it a vicious circle, no money coming in, no money going out. Hold on its going to get a lot worse until we get someone in office who has a clue. From what I've seen in the coral to choose from, it's going to be a long wait.

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