In a few short weeks, legislators will return to Augusta to convene for the Second Regular Session of the 128th Legislature.

The second session of the two-year legislative cycle is shorter than the first. Typically, the first session adjourns in June (although a number of issues kept us later this year), and the second session is scheduled to finish in April.

In the longer session, lawmakers often consider about 2,000 pieces of legislation, sometimes even more. But the second session is reserved for bills considered to be emergency in nature. There are normally several hundred bills that come before us in the second session, including carryover bills from the previous session and any the governor may submit.

One of the biggest challenges for this legislature promises to be an issue that we have heard a lot about over the past few years: Medicaid expansion. The Legislature has taken this up numerous times, but it never passed, largely due to the sizeable fiscal note that comes with expansion.

But last November, it passed on the statewide ballot by a vote of 58.6 percent to 40.1 percent, and I believe it is important to recognize that the people have now spoken on this issue.

But its implementation presents an enormous challenge to legislators and, more importantly, Maine taxpayers. While federal dollars will pay for most of the increased enrollment, Maine will also be responsible for a large portion of it, and estimates on how much that may be greatly varies.

The Office of Fiscal and Program Review, for example, estimates that it will cost $13.6 million next year, $31 million in 2019, $43.4 million in 2020 and $54.5 million in 2021, but the Department of Health and Human Services estimates much higher at $63 million next year, $82 million in 2020, $97 million in 2021 and more than $100 million every year after that.

When looking to other states that have expanded Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, it’s safe to assume that enrollment will greatly exceed projections.

This means that, going forward, whenever lawmakers are putting together a two-year state budget, we will first have to build in Medicaid expansion funding before we can begin budgeting for other critical programs, such as education, public safety, infrastructure, care for our elderly and other priorities.

Just last session, we finally funded education at the 55 percent level, as required by state law, for the first time ever. I fear that this new expensive mandate will make it impossible to continue funding our schools at this level within existing resources.

Funding Medicaid expansion will also make it difficult to finally eliminate the waiting lists that some mentally disabled and elderly citizens are languishing on – so we can expand free health care to 64,000 childless adults and 16,000 parents.

The governor has outlined a few stipulations that will have to be taken into consideration – no tax increases to pay for it, no use of the rainy day fund – or other one-time funding sources – and we must completely fund our Section 21 and 29 waitlists (elderly and disabled), and I have to agree with his assessment.

So, how will we pay for it? The referendum didn’t provide any guidance when it comes to funding the expansion.

Some have suggested charging a small fee for the service, based on income level.

Other ideas include reducing the size of the Maine Clean Elections program, which costs taxpayers roughly $6.5 million every biennium or increasing the length of terms for legislators from two years to four.

This was considered last session and, had it passed, would have saved $2,467,670 in fiscal year 2018-19.

While I’m not sure on exactly how much money we would save, another idea would be to reduce the size of the Legislature.

Knowing all of this information, do you still support Medicaid expansion? If so, I would like to hear from you; please share any funding suggestions you may have with me. You can reach me by email at [email protected] or by phone at 207.287.1505.

I would like to wish every one of you and your families a Merry Christmas and a safe and joyful holiday season!

Senator David Woodsome is currently serving his second term in the Maine State Senate. He represents the people of Senate District 33 which consists of the towns of Cornish, Limerick, Newfield, Parsonsfield, Sanford, Shapleigh and Waterboro.

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