AUGUSTA — Gov. Paul LePage chastised lawmakers Thursday for not approving his proposed budget by Feb. 1 and asked Maine residents to call their legislators to urge swift action.

“The Democrats on the (Appropriations) Committee have been stalling since day one,” he said in a hastily called press conference. “They have not done one thing to help the Maine people.”

In December, LePage proposed spending cuts to the state’s Medicaid program to close a $221 million shortfall in the Department of Health and Human Services over the next 17 months. He set a deadline of Feb. 1 for action.

Democrats have called that deadline artificial and said it was relevant only if they had adopted his plan as written.

LePage’s proposal would drop 65,000 people from MaineCare, the state’s Medicaid program.

“I ask the Maine people to get on the phone and call your representatives,” he said Thursday. “Tell them it’s inappropriate to play this game. We need to fix this problem now.”

Rep. Peggy Rotundo, D-Lewiston, the lead Democrat on the Appropriations Committee, said Democrats have not been stalling.

“While the governor was making this statement, we have been working hard and in a bipartisan way to find alternatives to what we have said from the very beginning is an irresponsible, dangerous and, in parts, illegal budget,” she said.

By illegal, Rotundo was referring to LePage’s plan to ask the federal government for waivers from requirements in the Medicaid program. LePage wants to end coverage for certain groups, but the federal Affordable Care Act typically prevents states from decreasing the number of people who are covered.

LePage’s spokeswoman said earlier this week it’s not illegal for the governor to ask for a waiver.

Democrats and Republicans continued to negotiate over the budget Thursday behind closed doors. The committee’s Senate chairman, Richard Rosen, R-Bucksport, said he believes that House and Senate votes on part of the budget could come as soon as next week.

Rosen said a proposal presented to LePage on Thursday calls for immediate action to close the shortfall in this fiscal year, which ends June 30, and for more time to discuss controversial cuts that would come in the second year.

The vote on closing this year’s shortfall would be paired with $25 million in less controversial cuts that have been proposed by a state task force.

As he has in recent weeks, the governor said the DHHS stands to run out of money in April. “If the cash don’t flow, welfare checks don’t go,” he said.

When asked if LePage was correct to say that Democrats have stalled, Rosen disagreed.

“No, we’ve been having very fruitful ongoing discussions,” he said. “These are significant problems that have existed for decades. The governor has stepped forward and recognized that they have to be addressed. Being able to have fully developed solutions in just a few weeks is an extraordinary challenge and one that doesn’t line up with the timing emergency of paying the bills.”

Susan Cover — 620-7015

[email protected]

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