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Maine Lawmakers, Governor at Odds Over Supplemental Budget
12/10/2013   Reported By: Mal Leary

The co-chairs of the Legislature's Appropriations Committee are asking state agencies to provide them the detailed information they need to develop a supplemental budget to make sure state spending stays within existing resources. They have written Gov. Paul LePage asking that he direct those agencies to cooperate. Mal Leary reports.

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This is not business as usual. It's long een the practice that Maine governors propose supplemental budgets, which cover the added or unforseen costs of running the government. In this case, the budget was crafted by lawmakers of both parties and passed, over Gov. LePage's veto.

LePage has said that if there's a shortage, it's up to the Legislature to find a fix. Lewiston Democratic Rep. Peggy Rotundo is the House co-chair of the committee. She says one way or the other, there will be a budget.

"We would like to work with the governor on a supplemental budget and we hope he will come to the table," she says. "But if he doesn't, we as a Legislature need to govern."

Rotundo points out that there are expected budget shortfalls in the Department of Health and Human Services as a result of the federal government cutting off Medicare payments to the Riverview psychiatric hospital, as well as increased criminal cases in the courts, and further potential federal cuts that Congress may impose on top of those already implemented.

"We just hope that we will get the information from the administration that we need in order to be able to build a supplemental budget," Rotundo says. 'It's much more difficult when the administration is not cooperating."

Gov. LePage was not available for comment, but his spokeswoman, Adrienne Bennett, says the administration will cooperate with lawmakers, but will not be drafting a supplemental budget.

"We are going to work on balancing a budget," Bennett says. "The governor has a constitutional obligation to do so. But this is their budget - this is the 126th Legislature's budget. And they need to find a solution. The governor did not sign on to it, and just because he is taking a different approach does not mean that it's wrong. It means that he's trying to make a point: We need to make structural changes."

Including, for example, the total elimination of municipal revenue sharing. The governor made that clear in an interview earlier this week. "You go back to what I suggested: It's time to get rid of welfare to communities."

In the meantime, lawmakers say they're frustrated by the LePage administration's policy of limited participation in the committee process. It happened again when no one from the Department of Health and Human Services appeared at a meeting called to look into a number of agency policies and actions.

The tensions played out in this exchange between Republican Rep. Deborah Sanderson, of Chelsea, and Lewiston Democrat Margaret Craven, co-chair of the Health and Human Services Committee.

"I don't think the department is negligent in their duties in responding to our legislative questions with all this information that has been put before us."

"Of course, if we are going to get into a debate about this, these are lingering questions that are very, very serious, and we need answers in real time."

Rotundo says the committee is asking for detailed information from agencies by Jan. 3. She expects the committee will start reviewing that information that following week when the Legislature re-convenes.


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