Appropriators move to fund methadone, anti-smoking programs despite LePage

The Appropriations Committee is meeting on- and off-mic this weekend to register votes on individual budget lines as the group barrels toward the deadline for crafting its spending plan.

Friday night, the group voted to reject Gov. Paul LePage’s sales tax increase and expansion, as well as several other items.

So far this afternoon, the panel has rejected several of the governor’s controversial DHHS proposals, such as the elimination of the Fund for a Healthy Maine, and cuts to several programs to help elderly Mainers.

I’ll use this blog post today to update you on what other newsworthy votes are taken as the day goes on. This won’t be an exhaustive list of every vote taken, but the ones worth noting.

All votes were unanimous unless otherwise noted. Make sure to read the caveat at the end of this post.

Voted into the budget:

  • A $15 million annual increase in General Purpose Aid for Education, . Sen. Linda Valentino, D-Saco, described this figure as a “baseline,” and said the committee would seek to add additional funds before negotiations are over.
  • $4.6 million per year for Maine’s nursing homes. This is a continuation of one-time funding approved last year by the Legislature at LePage’s behest. (UPDATE: This line item was moved back out for reconsideration by Rep. Heather Sirocki, R-Scarborough. It’s unclear why, although it’s likely Republicans may move to add additional funding.)
  • A new asset test for participants in the Maine Drugs for the Elderly program.
  • A change in hospital reimbursement rates, whereby MaineCare will pay less for nonemergency visits to the emergency department.
  • $300,000 for crime scene processing of methamphetamine labs.

Voted out of the budget:

  • Roughly $52 million in cuts to anti-smoking and pro-immunization efforts through the Fund for a Healthy Maine and other programs. LePage had proposed using the money to increase payments to primary care doctors instead. Sirocki and Jeff Timberlake, R-Turner, voted in the minority to support the cuts for anti-smoking programs, while the vote to keep pro-immunization spending was unanimous.
  • LePage’s proposal to eliminate funding for methadone treatment, worth more than $4 million. Sirocki and Timberlake voted in the minority to support the cut.
  • $2 million in additional spending to fund Gov. Paul LePage’s litigation when the Attorney General Janet Mills declines to represent the state. Sirocki, Timberlake and Rep. Robert Nutting, R-Oakland, voted in the minority to support the new spending.
  • Changes to eligibility rules for the Drugs for the Elderly Program and Medicare Savings Program, which would have saved the state $48 million by cutting some seniors from the programs. Sirocki was alone in supporting the changes.
  • Roughly $3 million per year to create two new 7-bed facilities to house forensic patients who would otherwise go to Riverview Psychiatric Facility, but who require a more minimal security environment.

*** Important caveat *** All the votes discussed in this post are preliminary. The only vote that really matters is the final one taken on the complete budget package, which may not happen until Monday, or even later. However, these votes show where the committee is headed, and so are our best indication so far of what will — and will not — be in its budget.

Mario Moretto

About Mario Moretto

Mario Moretto has been a Maine journalist, in print and online publications, since 2009. He joined the Bangor Daily News in 2012, first as a general assignment reporter in his native Hancock County and, now, in the State House. Mario left the BDN in 2015.