AUGUSTA – Even though Gov. Paul LePage signed a bill Wednesday to close an $83 million budget shortfall largely through MaineCare cuts, the debate is far from over. Maine voters can expect the cuts to be an issue in this year’s legislative elections.

“What the debate demonstrates is the difference between the parties,” said Sen. Philip Bartlett II, D-Gorham, hours after the Republican governor signed the bill.

Republican Rep. Peter Edgecomb of Caribou, who is running for state Senate, agreed that the issues highlighted during the debates are likely to come up again, “at least for the next few weeks.”

Democrats will point to effects on social services, while Republicans will stress fiscal responsibility.

Republicans used their majorities in the House and Senate on Tuesday night to pass the bill that closes an $83 million shortfall largely through cuts in Department of Health and Human Services programs.

Adding to social service cuts made earlier this year, it would remove 19- and 20-year-olds from MaineCare — the state’s Medicaid program — reduce funding for Head Start, cut family planning funding, eliminate state funding for home health care visits and remove about 1,500 low-income elderly and disabled people from a prescription drug assistance program, among other cuts.

House Speaker Robert Nutting said the budget remedies financial troubles caused by “years of irresponsible expansion of state government programs.”

The Senate has 19 Republicans, 15 Democrats and one independent, while the House Republicans have a 77-72 majority, with one independent member.

“The structural changes within this budget should prevent future legislatures from having to cover DHHS shortfalls every year,” said Nutting, R-Oakland. “At the same time, they will protect the state’s safety net for those who truly need it.”

Democrats say the budget cuts will take health care services from more than 24,000 Mainers.