We now have confirmation of what the governor said a month ago: The state of Maine is facing a significant budget shortfall in the Department of Health and Human Services.

Original estimates put the deficit at more than $220 million. Democrats in the Legislature have questioned that figure, but the non-partisan Office of Fiscal and Program Review confirmed that the shortfall is likely consistent with that estimate, based on the best available information.

While the accounting details are complicated, the reason for the shortfall is simple: MaineCare (Maine’s version of Medicaid) spending over the past decade has grown, and continues to grow, at a rate that is unsustainable.

The department has seen a 78 percent increase in enrollment since 2002. During that same time period, the state’s population grew by only 7 percent.

Unlike the federal government, the Maine Constitution requires us to balance the state budget. Gov. Paul LePage has put forward a budget proposal that will accomplish what past administrations failed to do: fix the structural problems in the DHHS budget without raiding other parts of the state budget or relying on gimmicks, such as raising cigarette taxes.

These “kick the can down the road” approaches have done nothing to solve the structural budget problems within DHHS.

LePage has acknowledged that taking these steps will be painful for many Mainers. At the same time, however, they will protect the safety net for our most vulnerable citizens.

I call on members of both parties to put partisanship aside, roll up their sleeves and work toward a solution that will put the DHHS budget on a path to future solvency and protect the system for those who need it most.

House Speaker Robert Nutting

R-Oakland