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Maine Governor Mulls Whether to Sign or Veto State Budget

As Maine lawmakers wait to learn whether Gov. Paul LePage will approve a bipartisan-backed budget passed this week in the House and Senate, Democratic leaders Justin Alfond and Mark Eves had an impromptu meeting with the governor in his office this morning. As Mal Leary reports, the Medicaid expansion issue was also raised, but the governor wouldn't say whether he'd support the measure.

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Both Alfond and Eves say the governor requested the meeting. And in an apparent sign that he wanted a frank and private discussion, he asked both his staff and the staff of the Senate president and the House speaker to leave the cabinet room meeting.

This week both the House and Senate gave final approval to a measure expanding Medicaid to cover about 70,000 more Mainers. The health insurance program currently covers more than 300,000 Mainers, and is paid for by both the state and federal government.

Speaker Eves says Medicaid expansion was on the governor's mind, but the measure's future is in flux. "Continuing to talk about Medicaid expansion - I think the governor wanted to talk about Medicaid expansion se we had a very brief conversation," Eves says.

The federal government will pay for the entire cost of the expansion for the three years starting Jan. 1 of 2014. The governor has expressed concern about the costs after the first three years, and the current waiting list for some seniors to get benefits.

President Alfond says the governor has not decided what to do with the legislation. "He just wanted us to know that there are things in it that he respects and there's things in it that he doesn't enjoy," Alfond says. "And so I think he is going to make his decision on Medicaid expansion - I think by sometime early next week he'll have either that vetoed - and so it was good to know that time line."

They say the governor did not indicate how he is leaning on the Medicaid issue.

As for the two-year, bipartisan $6.3 billion state budget, Alfond says the governor made it clear he will not make a swift decision. "In addition, we talked about the budget. He's glad that he has the budget on his desk. He's going to take the full 10 days, and we look forward to working with him over the next 10 days so that he understands what we put in it, and how we can do this together."

On his way out of the State House to give a speech, Gov. LePage refused to comment on the meeting. He has said in the past that he would veto the budget because it raises the sales tax by a half penny to 5.5 percent and increases the meals and lodging tax from 7 percent to 8 percent. Both are temporary increases that sunset at the end of the two-year budget.

Lawmakers are scheduled to end the session June 19, but the governor's decision to wait the full 10 days to decide the budget means lawmakers will be in session at least through the end of the month.

If the governor does veto the bill, and lawmakers fail to override the veto, they will have just a few days to pass a spending measure that avoids some state government programs and services being halted when the current budget law runs out June 30.


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