AUGUSTA — Portland Mayor Michael Brennan met with Gov. Paul LePage on Wednesday to try to head off state budget cuts that could cost Maine’s largest city millions of dollars.

“We had a very cordial meeting and it was very helpful,” Brennan said after speaking privately with the governor for 30 minutes.

But neither Brennan nor LePage appeared to leave the meeting with what he wanted.

Brennan, a former Democratic legislator who was elected Portland’s mayor in November, said he was glad for the chance to explain what’s at stake for the city but he didn’t come away with any concessions from LePage.

LePage did not speak with reporters after the meeting, but his spokeswoman said the governor didn’t hear any new ideas for balancing the budget without spending cuts for health and human services.

LePage’s proposal to close a $221 million budget deficit over the next 17 months would eliminate MaineCare coverage for about 65,000 Mainers and reduce coverage for those who remain in MaineCare — the state’s Medicaid program. The plan also would cut $29.5 million from the Fund for a Healthy Maine, about half of that program’s budget.

Lawmakers continued negotiating Wednesday to reach a compromise on the health and human services budget. The Legislature’s Appropriations Committee is expected to continue working through this week, at least. It must come up with a plan that can win two-thirds support from the House and the Senate.

Under LePage’s proposal, Portland stands to lose $2 million in state funding for services to the city’s poor, Brennan said.

Portland’s hospitals and health care providers would lose an estimated $20 million a year in Medicaid reimbursements and other revenue, Brennan said.

For example, Mercy Hospital’s revenue would drop an estimated $6 million a year, according to Eileen Skinner, president and chief executive officer. That would force the closing of Mercy Recovery Center in Westbrook, the largest substance-abuse treatment center in Maine, and the elimination of 100 jobs.

In addition to the financial losses, Brennan said, “there will be thousands of Portland residents that will no longer have health care” coverage.

Brennan sent a letter Monday to LePage and state lawmakers outlining the potential impact on Portland and other service center communities. The letter also was signed by the operators of several nonprofit agencies.

LePage called Brennan on Tuesday in response to the letter and offered to meet with the mayor. “He wanted to know what (Brennan) had for solutions,” said Adrienne Bennett, LePage’s spokeswoman.

Brennan suggested alternatives to reduce spending, such as aggressively managing the expensive care that’s given to chronically ill patients.

“Managed care could save millions of dollars in the state. There are ways, potentially, to reduce the services that are available in Maine while continuing to still have eligibility,” Brennan said after the meeting. “I also talked about the fact we could increase the cigarette tax. We could increase the alcohol premium tax and there could be a delay in the tax cuts that were approved by the Legislature last year.”

Brennan conceded that none of the ideas appeared to change the governor’s mind. “He’s heard those proposals before,” he said.

LePage has consistently rejected any tax increase to close the budget gap. The administration is working on some of the other alternatives, Bennett said, such as aggressively managing care for chronically ill patients, who drive most MaineCare spending.

“It’s something that we are looking at for the long term, but we have a situation where we are going to run out of money on April 1,” Bennett said.

Brennan said he took the opportunity Wednesday to remind LePage that Portland also is bearing the costs of budget cuts approved last year.

More than 500 families in Portland will stop receiving cash assistance through Temporary Assistance for Needy Families as of May 1 unless they qualify for exemptions from a new five-year lifetime limit on benefits, say city officials. Some families that lose benefits under the federal and state program are expected to turn to General Assistance, a program funded mostly by the city’s taxpayers.

Wednesday’s meeting was LePage’s second with Portland’s mayor. Brennan’s predecessor, Nicholas Mavodones, met with the governor in July to talk about the administration’s support for Portland’s fishing fleet.

A departing Cabinet member had said the governor didn’t want to work with the city to save the fleet, although LePage denied the claim and used the meeting in July to attack the media.

John Richardson — 620-7016

[email protected]


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.