Thursday, December 8, 2011

MaineCare faces huge budget cuts

We have an unusual Thursday comment today only because yesterday’s post was devoted entirely to the date, Dec. 7th, Pearl Harbor Day.  I just thought you’d like to know why we are here today.

Gov. Paul LePage has revealed his plan to begin the seemingly impossible task of getting the Maine Department of Health and Human Services’ budget under control.  DHHS is facing a shortfall of more than a hundred million dollars.  MaineCare, Maine’s version of Medicaid, alone has seen its growth from $1.44 billion in 2002 to $2.55 billion this year.  Sometimes a chart is easier to understand than numbers no one can visualize.

It is a spending pattern that the state simply can no longer afford.  Maine has become one of the most generous providers of benefits of all states.

What Gov. LePage is recommending this time around will, he says, get the MaineCare budget under control.  He proposes eliminating the benefits for able bodied adults with no children and to bring coverages for other services in line with what is offered by other states.  The Governor says his proposal does as much as possible to protect the most vulnerable Mainers.

The Democrats, who had been in control of state government for nearly 40 years until Gov. LePage was elected last year, began their protestations even before the governor had ended his presentation.

You will hear opponents saying things like the shortfall was caused by a decline in revenue or because of recent tax cuts.  Of course they would be wrong.  The shortfall was caused by unchecked growth of enrollment and spending for years. 

They will say we need to tax Mainers even more to make up the shortfall, taxes Mainers no longer can afford.  They will also say money in other parts of the state budget must be found to spend on the benefits.  

But the rest of the state budget funds such things infrastructure, roads, bridges, and the like, and schools, municipal revenue sharing and other governmental essentials.  Most of them are also facing major problems because so much money is being spent by DHHS.

The Democrats have used gimmick budgeting, hopeful funding which never came from the Federal government, and other financial tricks in the past.  The failure of the previous administrations to see our current financial problem coming is what has put us into the estimated $220 billion shortfall for next year.

Gov. LePage recognizes the only way to get the state’s finances under control is to stop spending.  Getting the DHHS under control is just the beginning.  One in four people in Maine receive some form of benefits and that’s 35% more than the national average.

It’s not the end of reform for Gov. LePage, however.  He was asked yesterday on the Ray Richardson Morning Show on WLOB (1310 AM) radio when more cuts would be proposed.  The governor said that he already is working on the next proposal, but he won’t go into it until after the Legislature acts on the DHHS cuts in January.

Credit:  The information regarding the DHHS budget and proposed cuts were taken from an email from Jason Savage, Executive Director of Maine People Before Politics.  He urged his email be posted on Twitter and Facebook.  Since I have neither, I took the liberty of using his work here.


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