AUGUSTA — Conservative Republicans continue to question the state budget that is expected to come up for votes today in the House, raising the possibility that it won’t get the two-thirds support needed to pass.

A straw poll of members of a conservative caucus showed more than 30 Republicans indicated they could not vote for the budget as written, said caucus member Rep. Dale Crafts, R-Lisbon. “We’re all just shaking our heads, going, ‘What a mess to try to resolve,'” he said.

In particular, the conservatives don’t want to vote to continue a tax on paid insurance claims that’s part of Dirigo Health. The tax was scheduled to be reduced to 1.64 percent, but the Legislature’s Appropriations Committee has unanimously recommended continuing it at 1.87 percent to provide nearly $5 million in funding.

Late Tuesday, negotiators were working out a likely compromise to allow the tax to be reduced as scheduled, as long as more money is restored to hospitals, according to Democratic sources. It was not clear where the money would come from if those items were changed in the budget.

Another sticking point for conservatives is that several members don’t like the proposed 1 percent across-the-board cuts.

“I think that’s bad legislation,” Crafts said. “You have to look at each department individually. To just do 1 percent across the board is not good government. I’m afraid we’re more concerned about paying the bills than fixing things.”

In his weekend radio address, Gov. Paul LePage expressed similar sentiments about the budget endorsed by the Appropriations Committee.

“What is now on the table as solutions are short-term fixes that ignore out-of-control welfare spending,” he said. “I do not support a budget that is built upon one-time savings, exaggerated savings and tax increases, and neither should Maine people.”

LePage’s initial proposal, released in December, called for reducing the number of people on MaineCare, the state’s Medicaid program, by 65,000 to close a $221 million shortfall in the Department of Health and Human Services for the period ending June 30, 2013.

After weeks of negotiations, the Appropriations Committee settled last week on a plan to address a $120 million shortfall that the DHHS faces in April. That plan would close enrollment in MaineCare health insurance for childless adults and cut off 14,000 parents as of Oct. 1.

The plan also relies on shifting $59 million from the 2012-13 fiscal year to the current year, which ends June 30.

Crafts and others could decide to support the $120 million fix if it is amended during House and Senate debates.

House Minority Leader Emily Cain, D-Orono, said she was confident that enough Democrats would support the budget to give it two-thirds approval, although many of them have their own concerns.

“It is clear this is not a Democratic budget,” she said. “It is a better version of the governor’s budget that has a lot of Democratic fingerprints on it.”

Cain, a former Appropriations Committee co-chairwoman who worked closely with the committee on the current compromise, said critics of the bipartisan agreement don’t realize how hard it is to balance a budget.

“Anyone who thinks you can just balance a budget from an ideological perspective has never balanced a budget,” she said.

The committee has yet to address an additional $84 million that’s needed to balance the budget for the year starting July 1.

House Majority Leader Andre Cushing, R-Hampden, said he believes many Republicans will come on board, particularly in light of the 13-0 agreement by the Appropriations Committee.

“I feel confident people will do what we need to do to fill this hole in the budget,” he said.


Susan Cover — 620-7015

[email protected]

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