Gov. LePage attacks bipartisan budget proposal

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AUGUSTA — A bipartisan budget package aimed at erasing a looming $221 million shortfall is “full of gimmicks” and lacks structural changes needed over the long haul to make state Medicaid services affordable to taxpayers, Gov. Paul LePage charged Monday.

LePage lobbed heavy criticism at the Appropriations Committee, which has been working for weeks on the Republican governor’s budget plan that calls for sweeping reductions in Medicaid benefits and eligibility standards.

The governor said he’d veto the plan if it came to his desk, but said he doubts it has the votes to get there.

LePage said the cutbacks he has proposed are needed to financially sustain Medicaid, known in the state as MaineCare, past April.

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Committee members from both parties have embraced a plan to immediately balance the 2012 budget, which carries the state through June, with some curtailments. It calls for better management of drugs addressing opiate addiction, salary savings and curtailing Medicaid coverage for some optional services and several other changes.

However, committee members favor putting off decisions on many of the more sweeping cutbacks by including them in the fiscal 2013 budget, meaning they will be debated in the weeks ahead. LePage isn’t buying into that idea.

“The latest plan is full of gimmicks, and more importantly, on false savings,” LePage said. “It continues to cannibalize state government to support an out-of-control welfare program.”

He warned that if the committee’s plan goes forward, lawmakers will be back in a few months dealing with another shortfall in the Department of Health and Human Services budget, which covers Medicaid.

LePage accused the Appropriations Committee of “abdicating its responsibility to the people of the state of Maine. What they are talking about today is exactly the same type of proposal they’ve been putting forth for the last 40 years. They haven’t worked once in the last 40 years and they won’t work again.”

Appropriations Committee members will keep working on the budget and ignore the governor’s veto threat, Democratic legislative leaders said.

“The governor’s idea of health care for our most vulnerable is handing out a Band-Aid and toothbrush and sending them into the streets,” said the House Democratic leader, Rep. Emily Ann Cain of Orono.

The House chairman of the Appropriations committee, Republican Rep. Patrick Flood of Winthrop, and the lead Democrat, Rep. Peggy Rotundo of Lewiston, said before the governor made his statements that the committee wants to first make sure the bills are paid for fiscal 2012 and continue to work in good faith on the spending package.

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