Maine lawmakers make progress on spending deal
AUGUSTA, Maine (AP) — Maine lawmakers are moving forward on a spending package tackling issues including the opioid crisis and health centers at schools.
The Legislature’s appropriations and financial affairs committee moved unanimously Monday to send the roughly $40 million package to lawmakers. The panel previously moved forward on a $26 million package, including reimbursement for personal care aides.
Democratic House Speaker Sara Gideon and Republican House Leader and gubernatorial candidate Ken Fredette said this week they’ll start asking lawmakers about returning to Augusta. Fredette said lawmakers will hopefully return next week.
Lawmakers were long at an impasse because Democrats wanted to include some Medicaid expansion funding in a spending deal. A state court recently ordered Republican Gov. Paul LePage’s administration to file paperwork to expand Medicaid coverage to over 70,000 low-income Mainers as voters demanded last year.
Democratic Rep. Drew Gattine said he wants lawmakers to separately consider a bill directing $3.8 million to hire 103 new staffers to implement Medicaid expansion set to start July 2. Advocacy groups say Maine can dip into $140 million in projected surplus funds to cover the first year of Medicaid expansion coverage, which could cost between $30 million and $58 million.
Fredette said he’s unsure if his caucus will support passing such a bill.
Expansion supporters say they’re ready to continue fighting for Medicaid expansion in court if lawmakers stall, said Robyn Merrill, a leader of the Medicaid expansion campaign.
“The governor has been saying he can’t implement the law because the Legislature hasn’t acted,” she said. “We are in favor of taking any excuses away from the governor so that he will get it done and get health care to people.”
Lawmakers face looming deadlines on several issues, including personal aides who face a pay cut in August.
Lawmakers have until late August to decide the fate of dozens of bonds, including a $100 million transportation bond. Leaders of the Legislature’s taxation committee are also trying to strike a deal on tax reform.
Fredette said lawmakers are nearing deals on tax reform and bonds, though there’s no guarantee they will survive a potential veto from Republican Gov. Paul LePage.
This story corrects spelling of dateline.