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Rep. Phil Curtis, Majority Leader (R-Madison)
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For Immediate Release

Date: 05/21/12

House passes budget bill on 75-61 vote

AUGUSTA - The Maine House tonight passed a supplemental budget to fill a $78.5 million gap in the state's 2013 fiscal year. The bipartisan vote was 75-61. The Senate passed the measure earlier today, 19-16.

The bill, LD 1746, which had been under consideration for weeks by the Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee, deals primarily with a shortfall at the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS).

Many of the provisions are structural in nature, meaning the savings will continue in future years. Drug addicts on the state-funded methadone program, for example, will be limited to two years of treatment, with some exceptions, saving more than $1.3 million per year.

"In order to stabilize the budget, we had to make some unpleasant but necessary choices to ensure the sustainability of programs for our most needy citizens," said Rep. Tom Winsor (R-Norway), who serves on the Appropriations Committee.

The measure also includes about $26 million in new spending, such as $450,000 for indigent legal services, $3.7 million for E-911 service and an increase from $6,000 to $10,000 in the amount of pension income exempt from state income taxes, to take effect in fiscal year 2014.

"It was essential that this bill pass to keep the state's two-year budget in balance," said Rep. Phil Curtis (R-Madison), the House Majority Leader. "It was a tough vote for a lot of members of our caucus, because no one enjoys cutting programs. But ultimately it had to be done."

The highly anticipated vote, which followed hours of floor debate, marks an effort to bring DHHS spending under long-term control, especially in the MaineCare program. Chronic cost overruns in the state's Medicaid program have created a near-permanent budget crisis for years.

"While the cuts are painful to make, they are necessary to rein in the expanded and unsustainable welfare and MaineCare costs," said Rep. Kathy Chase (R-Wells), an Appropriations Committee member. "This will ensure that funding will be available now and in the future for our most vulnerable, poor, elderly, disabled and those temporarily in need of help."

Rep. Andre Cushing (R-Hampden), the Assistant House Majority Leader, said the problem began when state government, under previous leadership, expanded the MaineCare program to where enrollment was 35 percent more than the national average.

The budget bill eliminates optional MaineCare coverage for 19- and 20-year-olds, saving more than $4 million a year. It also reduces MaineCare eligibility for S-CHIP parents from those making up to 133 percent of the federal poverty level to 100 percent. That change will save $5.8 million per year.

"It's unfortunate that the programs grew so large and so many people became dependent on them," said Rep. Deborah Sanderson (R-Chelsea), a member of the Health and Human Services Committee. "The Appropriations Committee did an outstanding job of examining programs across the department in order to find significant savings. Throughout the process they kept in mind the impact these changes will have on people's lives."

Rep. Les Fossel (R-Alna), also a member of the Health and Human Services Committee, said that even after the cuts, Maine will still be one of the most generous states in the Union when it comes to Medicaid. "Maine is 45th in wage income," he said. "That's the economic base to support this enormous program. Other states that provide generous benefits are wealthy states. We are a poor state, and we still provide generous benefits. We can't ask any more from the working people of Maine." ###

Jay Finegan
Maine House Republicans
Tel: (207) 287-1445