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Mayor warns state budget cuts will hit Portland

A supplemental budget for fiscal year 2013 passed on a party-line vote by the Maine Legislature and signed by the governor Wednesday will have ripple effects on Portland's social services, possibly leading to layoffs, Mayor Michael Brennan warned.
"I'm very disappointed," Brennan said Wednesday after hearing of the bill's passage and the governor's signing of the legislation.
The bill, LD 1746, which had been under consideration by the Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee, and dealt primarily with a shortfall at the Department of Health and Human Services, was signed Wednesday by Republican Gov. Paul LePage.
Tuesday evening, the Maine House and Senate passed the supplemental budget which sought to close an estimated  $80 million shortfall, legislators said. The vote in the House was 75-61. The Senate passed the measure 19-16.
The cuts take effect July 1 as part of the state's two-year, $6 billion budget.
Doug Gardner, head of the city's Department of Health and Human Services, spoke with the Portland City Council about the looming cuts, and Brennan said "we made it very clear if the legislature did pass the budget, we were not going to go back into our budget. Unfortunately, we'll have to reduce programs, reduce services and potentially lay people off."
"I think we have an obligation now as a city to sit down and figure out how best to deal with these cuts, how do we help people who don't have health insurance continue to have access to care and how do we make sure those programs that have been successfully run by the city through the Fund for a Healthy Maine," Brennan said.
"It's very unfortunate because now there will be 21,000 people who don't have health insurance and we'll lose over $250,000 in the Fund for a Healthy Maine," he said.
The Fund for a Healthy Maine is a preventative health program operated with money received by the state from the Master Tobacco Settlement.
The budget calls for $185,000 in cuts to the city’s Healthy Maine Partnerships, Healthy Portland and Healthy Casco Bay. The cuts would target specifically Healthy Maine Partnerships, school-based health centers and home visitation, Brennan has said.
Prior to its passage, Democrats called the supplemental budget, passed by a vote of 8-5 from the Legislature's Appropriations Committee, "a dangerous and irresponsible budget proposal that will hurt Maine’s economy, vulnerable seniors and children, and working families, while giving away additional unfunded tax cuts."
But Senate President Kevin L. Raye said the state needed to get a handle on its Medicaid spending.
"By 2009, Maine’s per capita Medicaid cost was $1,895 per person, compared to an average of just $1,187 in other states," he said. "Mainers cannot afford costs that are 60 percent above the national average."
Republican legislators issued a press release about the votes, noting that many of the provisions "are structural in nature, meaning the savings will continue in future years. Drug addicts on the state-funded methadone program, for example, will be limited to two years of treatment, with some exceptions, saving more than $1.3 million per year."
 “In order to stabilize the budget, we had to make some unpleasant but necessary choices to ensure the sustainability of programs for our most needy citizens,”  Rep. Tom Winsor, R-Norway, who serves on the Appropriations Committee, said in the press release.
The measure also includes about $26 million in new spending, such as $450,000 for indigent legal services, $3.7 million for E-911 service and an increase from $6,000 to $10,000 in the amount of pension income exempt from state income taxes, to take effect in fiscal year 2014, legislators reported.
 “It was essential that this bill pass to keep the state’s two-year budget in balance,” said Rep. Phil Curtis, R-Madison, the House Majority Leader. “It was a tough vote for a lot of members of our caucus, because no one enjoys cutting programs. But ultimately it had to be done.”
 The vote, which followed hours of floor debate, marks an effort to bring DHHS spending under long-term control, especially in the MaineCare program. "Chronic cost overruns in the state’s Medicaid program have created a near-permanent budget crisis for years," legislators said.
"While the cuts are painful to make, they are necessary to rein in the expanded and unsustainable welfare and MaineCare costs,” said Rep. Kathy Chase, R-Wells, an Appropriations Committee member. “This will ensure that funding will be available now and in the future for our most vulnerable, poor, elderly, disabled and those temporarily in need of help.”
Rep. Andre Cushing, R-Hampden, the Assistant House Majority Leader, said the problem began when state government, under previous leadership, expanded the MaineCare program to where enrollment was 35 percent more than the national average.
The budget bill eliminates optional MaineCare coverage for 19- and 20-year-olds, saving more than $4 million a year. It also reduces MaineCare eligibility for S-CHIP parents from those making up to 133 percent of the federal poverty level to 100 percent. That change will save $5.8 million per year, legislators said.
House Speaker Robert Nutting, R-Oakland, said, "Passage of the supplemental DHHS budget represents an enormous step toward our goal of getting the state’s fiscal house in order and living within our means. Years of irresponsible expansion of state government programs led to our current financial troubles. The structural changes within this budget should prevent future legislatures from having to cover DHHS shortfalls every year. At the same time, they will protect the state’s safety net for those who truly need it.”
Democrats issued a press release blasting the budget.
“This is an equal opportunity budget — hurting our youngest to the oldest in our state. The lives of thousands of Maine people will be dramatically changed,” said Senator Phil Bartlett of Gorham. “This is a budget attacking our good, hard working families. It is an attack on our children—from our youngest infants who are literally saved from abuse and neglect to an attack on our young people who are trying to make their way in the world. And, it is an attack on our seniors by taking away their life-saving prescription medication.”
“I don’t believe in taking away opportunities from young children and working families,” said Sen. Justin Alfond of Portland who also serves as the Assistant Democratic Leader. “We should not be forcing families to decide whether to work or have safe childcare. There is no price tag for the safety of our young children.”

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