The Legislature’s budget writing committee engaged in its first public tussle Monday evening with a vote that wouldn’t have been necessary if not for the ongoing dispute between Republican Gov. Paul LePage and Democratic Attorney General Janet Mills.

At issue was whether lawmakers should circumvent the governor’s authority to issue a $28,000 financial order that’s needed to leverage federal matching funds for the AG’s Medicaid Fraud Unit. The proposal stemmed from LePage’s refusal to sign the order, which was requested by Mills in November.

The governor’s reason for refusing to sign the order are unclear. His administration has offered vague explanations about his willingness to make sure Mills is responsibly managing her budget.

The funds have already been appropriated by the Legislature but not allocated. The latter step requires the governor’s approval. In this instance, as well as several other financial orders involving Mills, the governor has refused to sign off, a move that is considered financial retribution for the attorney general’s refusal to support the governor in two high profile court cases last year.

The LePage-Mills feud was the backdrop for Monday’s decision. Democrats argued that the bill, which would direct the state finance department to release the funds without LePage’s OK, was necessary to ensure that the fraud unit continued to operate and qualify for federal grants.

Sen. Linda Valentino, D-Saco, noted that the fraud unit had recovered $60.7 million in prosecutions over the past several years.


“We’re talking about millions of dollars here for $28,000,” Valentino said. “It’s already in the budget, we don’t have to appropriate it.”

Valentino also referenced the frosty relationship between LePage and Mills.

“This is not about personalities,” she said. “It’s the right thing to do.”

Sen. Roger Katz, R-Augusta, said  circumventing the governor’s authority would set a bad precedent “whether we have a Democratic governor or a Republican governor.”

The partisan vote likely dooms passage of the measure, which still requires approval by the full Legislature. On Tuesday, Republican and Democratic legislative staff fired off partisan press statements, which often signals that a partisan vote also awaits in the House and Senate.

Despite the vote on the AG financial order, the budget committee unanimously approved another budget bill that will fund 29 new positions at the Riverview Psychiatric Center, as well as a $2.5 million measure designed to address budget deficits at five county jails across the state. The panel also struck a deal on a funding bill that diverts $2.4 million from the Fund for Healthy Maine in order to maintain primary care provider reimbursement rates, but rejected LePage’s proposal for a $4.6 million cut.

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