January 3, 2012

Key Republicans oppose LePage on funding cut

By Susan M. Cover scover@mainetoday.com
State House Bureau

AUGUSTA — Republican members of two key legislative committees have decided they cannot support Gov. Paul LePage's proposal to end funding for private non-medical institutions, Appropriations Committee Chairman Patrick Flood, R-Winthrop, said today.

Republicans, who hold the majority in the Legislature, join their Democratic colleagues in opposition to the $60 million cut meant to help balance the Department of Health and Human Services budget. LePage is trying to fill a $220 million shortfall at the department.

Lawmakers on the Appropriations and Health and Human Services committees are in Augusta today to continue deliberations on the budget. Under LePage's proposal, funding for the institutions, which serve the elderly, mentally ill and those with substance abuse problems, would have stopped on July 1.

"We know there's a lot of concern out there," Flood said. "A lot of uncertainty. The Republican members want to work with the executive branch on this."

Rep. Peggy Rotundo, D-Lewiston, said Democrats have been "firmly opposed" to the cut since LePage released his budget last month.

"We will work with our Republican colleagues," she said. "These proposed cuts are not acceptable to us."

LePage spokeswoman Adrienne Bennett said the governor has been willing to work with lawmakers to find a way to keep the homes open. He set aside money in the budget for a transition to a new system, she said. However, LePage is trying to balance the state budget and there are concerns from the federal government about how the homes are funded in Maine, she said.

"The governor, all along, has realized that an alternative would be necessary," she said in a statement. "That is why he set aside $39 million in the budget stabilization fund that is available for the Legislature to use as they explore alternatives. The governor is ready and willing to hear what those alternatives may be and work towards the best solution to this very important issue."

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