AUGUSTA — Sharp partisan lines began forming in the Legislature Tuesday on a proposed $127 million supplemental budget that some Republicans said they would be unlikely to support.

The budget-writing Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee met with the Democratic House Chair and the ranking Republicans of the Health and Human Services Committee to review parts of the budget that involve the Department of Health and Human Services.

Republicans on the human services committee had voted against most of the spending proposals in a near-unified block Monday. That stance is likely to foreshadow where minority Republicans will line up as votes on the spending package, proposed by Democratic Gov. Janet Mills in February, are cast in the days ahead.

“I just know it is highly unlikely that I will be voting for a supplemental budget in any form,” said Rep. Beth O’Connor, R-Berwick, the ranking House Republican on the human services committee.  O’Connor, Rep. Patty Hymanson, D-York, the House chair of the committee, and Sen. Marianne Moore, R-Calais, the ranking Senate Republican, were reporting on their committee’s portions of the budget.

O’Connor said she believed many of the proposals offered by Mills could be funded by using unspent state general fund revenues to avoid adding new spending to the $8 billion two-year budget signed into law by Mills last June.

Many of the items in the proposed spending package are proposals that Republicans have previously supported. These include additional child protective case workers and supervisors for the Department of Health and Human Services, reimbursement rate increases for agencies that provide care to the disabled and elderly, and funds to reduce waiting lists for services for the developmentally disabled.

But O’Connor and some of her conservative colleagues have balked at Mills’ latest proposal, in part because they believe it could put the state into a financial hole, especially if the economy sours and state revenues decrease.

“We know the economy is good, which is excellent,” O’Connor said wrapping her knuckles on the desk. “Knock on wood.” O’Connor said federal Medicaid reimbursement rates to the states ebb and flow with the overall economy, going up when the economy is strong and going down when it weakens, leaving states to pick up the difference.

But Democrats on the Appropriations Committee pushed back, saying the state would have pick up the slack one way or the other and it currently had the funding to prepare for that. “I don’t think we are going to have much choice other than to enact a supplemental budget that accounts for the reduction in federal funds we are going to receive,” said Rep. Drew Gattine, D-Westbrook, the House chairman of the Appropriations Committee.

Gattine said lawmakers just received another positive forecast for increasing state revenues last week, and he was disappointed Republicans were now not supporting key initiatives they had previously fought for.

“If there are priorities that we share, and there seems like there are, and you think there are alternative ways to fund those priorities, I would love for you to bring those forward,” Sen. Cathy Breen, D-Falmouth, the Senate chair of the Appropriations Committee told O’Connor.

O’Connor said she would do her best to find other suggestions for funding, but she offered none on Tuesday.

Democrats, who hold majorities in both the House and the Senate, will be able to pass the supplemental spending package without Republican votes if necessary but would prefer to put together a bipartisan package that shows consensus. But that could be a reach in a heated election year, when all 186 seats in the Legislature are up for reelection.

Rep. Sawin Millett, R-Waterford, a member of the Appropriations Committee, said he wanted to know if the Health and Human Services Committee had tried to find any other ways to fund the initiatives that were supported largely on party lines by majority Democrats.

Hymanson said that wasn’t the charge of her committee, which is focused on policy. “We leave it to you to look for other sources if you feel the sources should be different than what was proposed,” Hymanson said.

The budget committee will continue its work over the next two weeks and begin taking votes on less controversial items Tuesday.

 

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