|July 3, 2017
State Budget Agreement Reportedly Reached
At this point on Sunday evening the House and Senate are carrying out necessary parliamentary procedures to get the budget back to the Committee of Conference, which is expected to put the deal into final form for a vote in each chamber. The deal we are hearing involves no 3% surtax on household incomes over $200,000 and no lodging tax increase (which has been part of the discussion for at least a week and is now strongly opposed by the Governor and House Republicans) in exchange for a two-year moratorium on behavioral health reimbursement rate cuts (familiar to many as the “Burns Study cuts”) and $575,000 per year in increased funding for Head Start, the latter two points to be funded by TANF surplus.
Committee of Conference Amendment C to Committee Amendment C, the latest amendment approved by the entire committee of conference, can be found here.
Governor LePage had said on Thursday, "House Republicans have worked very hard to put forth a reasonable proposal. If Democrats join with Republicans to immediately pass this budget, I will put my signature on it.” In contrast, Representative Matthea Daughtry, D-Brunswick, said in her report of Friday's meeting, "If we pass anything other than what [the Governor] wants he will take a full ten days to veto the bill, which will shut down our state. He then stated to our Speaker that he will leave the state and say that the shutdown is our fault."
Things did not improve, and Friday night at midnight the state shutdown began. Lawmakers continued to negotiate on Saturday and Sunday, leading to a 92-54 vote in the House on Monday afternoon, still short of the 101 needed to pass the budget. Negotiations continued late into Monday evening.
The most recent House Republican proposal before that point entirely repealed the 3% surcharge on high-income earners and offered a mixture of one time and on-going spending for education totaling around $125 million. Most concerning to public health advocates is a proposed $10 million cut in the Fund for a Healthy Maine, a program funded by tobacco settlement money that has been earmarked for tobacco and obesity prevention. The Republican proposal would use the Fund to pay for wage increases for direct care workers who care for the elderly. This program is an aspect of MaineCare, Maine's version of Medicaid, and has historically been funded, like other parts of Medicaid, by state and federal taxes.
According to some healthcare advocates, this is a "dangerous and unnecessary move." They pointed out that the House Republican proposal left $29 million "left over" or unallocated which could be used to ensure that those with developmental disabilities have their needs met, and that all workers in direct care receive what they see as "a fair wage for their critical work."
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