AUGUSTA — Even though Gov. Paul LePage signed a bill Wednesday to make up for an $80 million budget shortfall largely through Medicaid cuts, the debate is far from over. Maine voters can expect the cuts to become an issue in this year’s legislative election.

“What the debate demonstrates is the difference between the parties,” Sen. Philip Bartlett II, D-Gorham, said hours after the Republican governor signed the bill. During the Senate debate the previous night, he labeled the budget “a political manifesto” for the GOP.

Republican Rep. Peter Edgecomb of Caribou, who is running for state Senate, agreed that the issues highlighted during the debates are likely to come up again, “at least for the next few weeks.”

Democrats will point to effects on social services, but Republicans will stress fiscal responsibility issues.

Republicans used their majorities in the House and Senate on Tuesday night to pass the bill that fills an $80 million shortfall largely through cuts in Department of Health and Human Services programs.

Adding to social service cuts made earlier this year, it would remove 19- and 20-year-olds from MaineCare — the state’s Medicaid program — reduce funding for Head Start, cut Family Planning funding, eliminate state funding for home health care visits, and remove about 1,500 low-income elderly and disabled people from a prescription drug assistance program, among other cuts.

House Speaker Robert Nutting said the budget remedies financial troubles stemming from “years of irresponsible expansion of state government programs,” themes Republicans are likely to return to as they try to maintain their legislative control in the fall. The Senate has 19 Republicans, 15 Democrats, and one independent, while the House GOP has a 77-72 majority, with one independent member.

“The structural changes within this budget should prevent future legislatures from having to cover DHHS shortfalls every year,” said Nutting, R-Oakland. “At the same time, they will protect the state’s safety net for those who truly need it.”

Democrats say the budget cuts will take health care services from more than 24,000 Mainers. They had supported a proposal they said would have used surplus funding to blunt the impact on seniors, children and working families. Democrats also claimed the GOP-backed budget includes nearly $10 million in cuts that are based on federal waivers say they believe will not be approved.

“This budget is riddled with disingenuous savings, hidden costs, and illegal proposals,” said Rep. Mark Eves, D-North Berwick, the lead House Democrat on the Legislature’s Health and Human Services Committee. Others labeled it a “sham” and “heartless.”

Divisions over the budget prompted Rep. Jon Hinck of Portland, one of the four Democrats running for the U.S. Senate, to circulate a petition opposing the GOP spending proposal. Democrats said 4,500 people signed it.

Unlike most other budgets, this one did not pass with a two-thirds majority needed to have it take effect immediately. Because it won only majority support, it will likely take effect in mid-August, or 90 days after the close of the session.


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.