AUGUSTA — A legislative committee submitted its recommendations on Gov. Paul LePage’s proposed health and human services budget cuts Thursday.

The only consensus, however, was that lawmakers are still a long way from any agreement or final decisions.

Members of the Health and Human Services Committee split along party lines on a long list of proposed cuts, with seven or eight Republicans supporting the cuts and five Democrats opposing them. The recommendations were seen as little help to the Appropriations Committee, which is hoping to make its recommendations to the full Legislature before the end of the month.

“I’m a little bit discouraged,” said Kenneth Fredette, R-Newport and a member of the Appropriations Committee. He especially criticized Democrats for opposing the cuts and not offering alternatives.

“If we don’t want to cut these programs, how are we going to pay for them?” Fredette said. “I’m very frustrated.”

Democrats submitted a minority report saying many of the proposed cuts would lead to more expensive emergency room health care and other unintended consequences.

“We hope that your committee will reject the proposals that will clearly shift costs and make cuts to important investments in preventive care and public health,” the report said.

A majority of the health committee voted in favor of cutting several health programs paid for with tobacco settlement funds, including dental services and discounted prescription drugs for the elderly. The money instead would be used to help close a $121 million shortfall in the current budget year.

Only one proposed cut considered by the committee did not get majority support. Eight Democrats and Republicans voted against cutting tobacco settlement funding for the Head Start program, while five Republicans voted in favor.

Rep. Meredith Strang Burgess, R-Cumberland, split with her fellow Republicans on that issue and a few others that she also could not support, she said. “None of these votes were taken easily by anybody.”

The Appropriations Committee will continue its review of the budget today but is running short on time. LePage has said the Legislature needs to act by the end of this month to keep the shortfall from growing even larger.

“We’ve really got to start making these hard decisions sooner rather than later,” said Sen. Roger Katz, R-Augusta, and an appropriations member. “We don’t have a choice.”

John Richardson — 620-7016

[email protected]

 


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