Gov. LePage hits Dems over budget

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PORTLAND — Gov. Paul LePage on Friday called Senate Democrats obstructionists for voting against a proposed state budget that would close a $120 million shortfall. A Democratic senator responded by calling the budget proposal “short-sighted with long-term consequences.”

The Republican governor said Republicans, House Democrats and some Senate Democrats were willing to cooperate in reaching agreement on the budget, which aims to shore up a revenue shortfall for the current fiscal years that ends June 30. Additional cuts of more than $80 million for fiscal year 2013, which begins July 1, will be taken up by legislators later this session.

The House voted overwhelmingly in favor of the budget Thursday night, but it fell short in the Senate.

“While there has been some progress, there is still much work to do and Thursday evening’s actions by most Senate Democrats show their unwillingness to reach a solution,” LePage said in a statement. “Their strategy to solve this $221 million shortfall is still unclear after 74 days since I’ve presented this plan.”

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It doesn’t help matters when the governor calls Democrats obstructionists, said Sen. Justin Alfond of Portland, the Senate’s assistant Democratic leader.

“We believe solutions are attainable and we are here today working on trying to make this a better deal for the people of Maine,” Alfond said. “We are obligated to take a balanced approach that will take care of the needs of Maine people — not a plan that is short-sighted with long-term consequences.”

Legislators have been working on the budget for weeks and officials were hopeful that a negotiated agreement would be approved Thursday by both the House and Senate.

LePage has said the cuts he proposed are needed to financially sustain Medicaid, known in the state as MaineCare, past April. But some Democrats have called the shortfall a “manufactured crisis.” When the time came Thursday to vote in the Senate, a dozen Democrats opposed the budget while three voted in favor. If one more Democrat had supported the budget, it would have passed.

Democrats said they didn’t like that an amendment was added to the budget bill on Thursday, suggesting the final proposal had been negotiated behind closed doors. They further said they couldn’t support a budget that eliminated Medicaid health insurance coverage for 14,000 residents.

“This budget arbitrarily kicks people off health insurance — and that is not right,” Democratic Sen. Troy Jackson of Allagash said on the Senate floor Thursday night.

But the budget had strong support from House Democrats and was unanimously supported by the Legislature’s Appropriations Committee, said Senate President Kevin Raye, a Republican from Perry.

“By their action, they now make very real the prospect that providers will not be paid in April, and that those who depend on MaineCare program for health coverage won’t have that available to them. It’s an irresponsible action,” he said.

The budget is now in limbo and is expected to be taken up Tuesday in the Senate, where it was tabled.

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