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Democrats: $100 Million Shortfall in Maine DHHS Budget
01/10/2014   Reported By: Tom Porter

Maine Democrats say the state's health department faces a deficit of at least $100 million and are calling on Republican Gov. Paul LePage to work with lawmakers to address the shortfall. Speaking at a state house press conference this afternoon, House Majority Leader Seth Berry said precise details are sketchy, and lawmakers need more information to help solve the problem. Tom Porter has more.

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Berry says he and his colleagues found out about the shortfall after the governor mentioned it almost in passing to lawmakers on Thursday.

"That's where it became very clear that this is real and it isn't just a rumor," he says. "But we have very little information. That's part of the problem - we need the information, we need the executive branch to work with us so that we can solve the problems that the governor has been creating in DHHS."

Maine governors typically submit supplemental budgets, but LePage has said he won't submit one because lawmakers approved a budget he didn't like in the last session.

Democrats accuse the LePage administration of financial mismangement, citing examples such as the loss of funding for the Riverview Psychiatric Center, and the award of $28 million to what they describe as a "lame duck contractor" for MaineCare ride services. They say the shortfall will also make it harder for legislative leaders to draft a supplemental budget before the session ends in April.

"Refusing to solve our budget problem is not leadership of any kind," said Senate Majority Leader Troy Jackson, who also spoke at the news conference. He says the governor needs to take responsibility.

"The governor fashions himself a businessman - well, let me tell you, what CEO would have $100 shortfall and just sit on his hands?" Jackson said. "And what CEO would expect to be rehired after doing nothing to resolve the problem."

The governor's office admits there is a significant shortfall. But spokeswoman Adrienne Bennett says a major factor in that is the state's Medicaid program.

"And it underscores why we should not be considering welfare expansion at this point," she says. "We have a considerable wait list of people who need services who currently are not getting their services, and we need to take a hard look at this program and how we can manage it better."

Bennett says the administration will be providing lawmakers with more details on Monday.

"And we plan on working with them to figure out how we can best deal with this hole," she says. "And as we continue to work with the Legislature we hope that we can find some common ground in making some structural changes for the long-term so that we can deal with this."

House GOP leader Ken Fredette, meanwhile, put out a statement saying Republicans are committed to working with the administration and their Democratic colleagues in good faith to craft a solution to this problem. However, he adds, Republicans will not support a tax increase to cover what he describes as a "welfare-induced shortfall."

Demoratic leaders at Friday's press conference were asked if they planned any tax increases in the supplemental budget: It's hard to say, they replied, until the LePage administration supplies them with the information they need.


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