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GOP Line-Item Veto Response Has Maine Democrats Crying Foul
04/18/2012   Reported By: A.J. Higgins

Republican lawmakers in Augusta have decided not to reconvene this week and deal with two line-item budget vetoes from GOP Gov. Paul lePage, and that has prompted Democrats to cry foul. They see the decision as an about-face on months of collaborative budget negotiations. The failure to act has also resulted in a $6 million loss of funding for general assistance programs around the state. Republican leaders promise to remedy the situation next month, but Democrats say they're not sure they can trust GOP leadership.

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House Democratic leaders had expected the Legislature to confront vetoes by the governor so that voters know where their lawmakers stand. "We are not exercising our ability to use what the Constitution offers us, and I think that's a shame," says House Democratic Leader Emily Cain, of Orono.

Cain says that because of the five-day deadline for a legislative response to a line-item veto, Republicans have found a way to give the governor what he wants without having to take a position on a significant issue. "We have to look att he impact of these vetoes as well," Cain says. "This is millions of dollars towards general assistance, which is woefully underfunded."

GOP leaders insist that the general assistance fundign question will be handled in the near future. "If we had adjourned for the session and we weren't coming back, we weren't dealing with any of those issues, then I think you could make a valid argument that we probably should come back and deal with the governor's veto," says Sen. Richard Rosen.

Rosen, a Bucksport Republican, is co-chair of the Legislature's Appropriations Committee. He says the $6 million general assistance reimbursement to muncipalities, and a $3 million allocation to the Riverview Psychiatric Center for payment under Medicaid's disproportionate share program, will be taken up next month when the Legislature returns.

Rosen says it doesn't make sense to call a special session at a cost of $15,000 and stage a likely veto override. Besides, he says, lawmakers will have a better handle on revenues in a few weeks. "We know that we're going to have a new revenue forecast at the end of the month, we know we're still waiting for the eligibility numbers analysis from the Department of Health and Human Services, and so that's the reality," Rosen says.

There are some Republicans, including State Rep. Heather Sirocki of is Scarborough, who side with the governor on the cuts to the two programs. "Well, I am a member of the Health and Human Services Committee so I am familiar with these issues," Sirocki says. "I support the governor in his line-item veto of these issues. I think they are areas of concern."

Sirocki says not all muncipalities are operating their programs as efficiently as they could be. "What we've been doing is basically having an open-ended situation with no cap, and some towns have maximized on that and others have been a little more careful with their assistance," she says.

"The question here is not a debate about general assistance--we had that when we were negotiating this budget," says Rep. Margaret Rotundo, a Lewiston Democrat. Rotundo, the lead Democrat on the Appropriations Committee, says Republicans who focus on the vetoes are missing the point.

"The issue is that we had a negotiated budget that we voted on and that we are now not being allowed to come back and take a vote on that issue--that the Republicans have forfeited their constitutional obligation, and we will not be allowed to take action on this, and that, as a result, local tax payers are going to pay the price," she says.

Republicans may be able to diffuse the issue that Democrats see as a key talking point in the next election cycle. But Colby College Political Science Professor Sandy Maisal says GOP lawmakers will have to act on the general assistance and Medicaid line items next month.

"The Legislature spoke with a very clear, very forceful voice when they passed unanimously in one house and overwhelmingly in the other house this budget as a bipartsian budget, and the governor slapped the Legislature in the face," Maisal says. "And it seems to me that's where the conflict comes."

Gov. Paul LePage says he'll withhold comment pending some action on the spending cuts created by his vetoes. "I don't know--we'll see what they say," he says. "I mean I've heard a lot in the last two years. From now on, I'm not speaking until I see the results."

Members of the Appropriations Committee are scheduled to return to work on the budget next week.


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