Saturday, December 7, 2013
AUGUSTA — Republican lawmakers in the Senate passed a budget today that eliminates MaineCare for more than 20,000 people, cuts prescription drug coverage for senior citizens, and reduces funding for Head Start.
Supporters say the cuts are necessary to cover an $83 million deficit at the Department of Health and Human Services and to put the state on a more stable financial path going forward. Opponents packed the State House hallway, creating a gauntlet for lawmakers to pass through as they entered the Senate chamber. They held signs – "Working Parents Need Safe Child Care" – and chanted "you work for us!"
The Senate voted 19-16 on the initial vote. More votes are needed in both the Senate and House.
Appropriations Committee member Sen. Roger Katz, R-Augusta, said Republicans could have passed on the problems to the next Legislature, but they felt compelled to bring Maine more in line with what's common in other states. He said Maine spends $1,895 per MaineCare enrollee, while the national average is $1,187.
Also, Maine is in the top five in the U.S. in terms of the percentage of population on MaineCare, he said.
"It's easy to say don't cut," he said. "It's hard work to make targeted, precise reductions."
After passing five previous budgets with bipartisan support, the parties split on the final budget of the year. Senate Democrats went on at length to decry the impact of the cuts, saying that children that benefit from Head Start and the elderly who need help paying for prescription drugs are going to be hurt.
"It's a bean counter budget," said Sen. Dawn Hill, D-Cape Neddick, an Appropriations Committee member. "It's all about the numbers. It's not about the people. It draws a line at a certain number with callous disregard for a person's medical needs."
The full Legislature returned to Augusta today for what's expected to be a three-day session to wrap up business for the year. While the budget was the main order of business, lawmakers are also scheduled to vote on five separate bond bills that total more than $96 million. If approved, they will go before voters in November.
One of those who came to protest the budget was Kim Sprague of South Portland. She said she and her husband currently get $215 a week to help pay for childcare for their 1-year-old. She's worried that they will lose the subsidy if the budget is approved, which means she will have to stay home to care for the child.
"If we lose the subsidy, I will not be able to work," she said.