Gov. Paul LePage’s finance chief was all over the State House on Tuesday as the governor makes his public and private push to promote his two-year budget proposal. Richard Rosen also briefed the budget committee. Rosen’s overview wasn’t much different than the one he provided to the press during Friday’s budget curtain raiser.  However, he touched on (reluctantly) one piece in the Department of Health and Human Services proposed $1.4 billion budget that hadn’t previously been reported.

Many of the budget spending items are based on a series of assumptions, including revenue assumptions. Rosen was asked by members of the budget panel if the DHHS budget was built on the assumption that the troubled Riverview Psychiatric Center would regain federal certification and between $11 million and $17 million in federal funding.

Rosen didn’t answer the question directly, but implied that, yes, the DHHS budget assumed that Riverview would regain federal dollars. That’s important, not just in terms of the budget, but also in terms of the future of Riverview, which has been plagued with problems for the past several years.

From a practical standpoint, basing the DHHS budget on Riverview’s re-certification seems to make sense. The state has been attempting to convince the federal government that improvements are underway at the facility. Building a budget that assumed that those changes may not be enough might have sent a bad signal to the feds. Along those lines, the DHHS budget increases staffing at the facility, including 12 new acuity specialists to deal with high-risk patients.

– Steve Mistler

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Rosen was also asked about LePage’s desire to eliminate what’s known as the funding cascade. The cascade dedicates surplus dollars, including money appropriated but not spent by state agencies, into areas like education. Doing away with the cascade would allow the administration to direct surplus funds to a gradual elimination of the state income tax.

Rosen reiterated the governor’s dislike for the cascade, saying surplus revenues should be directed into the rainy day fund for emergencies. In the past, the cascade has been used to fund programs that couldn’t be directly funded in the budget because there wasn’t enough money. If it turned out that revenues were higher than projected then the programs in the cascade would be funded. But Rosen said the practice was “not sound.” If the program was a priority it should be funded in the budget. If it couldn’t be funded in the budget, then the money should go to the rainy day fund in case of an emergency.

So does LePage’s budget proposal eliminate the cascade? No. The cascade is construct of budget negotiations, meaning legislators insert language in the final budget document to outline where surplus revenue money would go.

“You negotiate over money you don’t have and then say this is what you’re going to do with it if you do,” Rosen said.

The governor would like to end the practice.

– Steve Mistler

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Last year former Democratic gubernatorial candidate U.S. Rep. Michaud leaned very heavily on an ill-defined plan to make Maine the “food basket of New England.” On Tuesday, LePage made his own reference to making Maine the farming hub of the region and very nearly lifted Michaud’s messaging. He said:

“I often hear, Maine could become the bread basket of the Northeast, and it is so true. We have a large state, we are sparsely populated. There is plenty of land and it is just a matter of being bold and getting out there and getting it done.”

– Kevin Miller

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And here’s another follow-up on our story in Tuesday’s paper about what LePage’s tax overhaul proposal will mean to municipalities and nonprofits.

As currently written, LePage’s plan to eliminate revenue sharing and allow municipalities to begin taxing larger nonprofits would likely create winners and losers around the state.

Towns that are home to large hospitals or private colleges could end up raking in more money from nonprofit taxes than they received under revenue sharing. But towns without any large nonprofits – and that means many rural communities – would have to find other ways to make up for the lost state dollars (and the typical go-to in those cases is higher property taxes).

It looks as though Lewiston – like Brunswick and potentially Portland – would fall in the former category.

Lewiston Chief Assessor Joe Grube told us Tuesday that, according to his preliminary number crunching, the city’s three largest nonprofits – Bates College, Central Maine Medical Center and St. Mary’s Health Center – would pay roughly $3.3 million in taxes under the governor’s plan. The city was projected to receive $2.6 million in revenue sharing in fiscal year 2015.

Other nonprofits with more than $500,000 in assessed value – the starting point for taxation under the LePage plan – would also likely owe the city taxes but Grube said their totals would be much smaller.

“I think it would be beneficial for the municipality,” Grube said.

– Kevin Miller

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It’s flown under the radar, but LePage’s budget appears to make some cuts at the Maine Centers for Disease Control.

According to health care advocates, the proposal axes about $10 million from the CDC budget, including $5 million from the Healthy Maine Partnerships program. The HMP program was at the center of a document shredding and grant manipulation scandal that has followed the agency since 2012. Coincidentally, a resulting whistle-blower lawsuit was settled in U.S. District Court on Monday.

The $10 million budget cut also removes $4 million from tobacco cessation programs and $1 million from an adult immunization program.

– Steve Mistler