Weekly Radio Address: Rep. Cain on the budget shortfall
Good Morning. I am State Representative Emily Ann Cain, the House Democratic Leader.
Thank you for tuning in.
While the Maine Legislature began its work for 2012 last week, the budget-writing Appropriations Committee has been working since December on a proposal to bring the state budget into balance. The process for this supplemental budget started earlier than usual when, in November, the LePage Administration reported that the projections they made for the state budget last Spring were wrong, and Maine has been spending more money than planned, particularly in the Department of Health and Human Services.
When the administration came with their fix for this problem, Democrats were skeptical. The size of the budget hole kept changing, and we couldn’t validate their numbers.
The administration’s proposal to solve the shortfall revolved around taking vital health care services away from 65,000 Maine people.
Because more questions than answers kept arising, the Appropriations Committee wisely asked the non-partisan Office of Fiscal and Program Review to validate the numbers. Their initial report came this week.
You’ve probably heard from the LePage administration over the past few days that their budget projections have been validated, but they are only telling you half of the story.
While the fiscal office was able to bring clarity to the size of the budget hole and that’s positive, questions remain about what is causing the actual and projected budget hole at the Department.
While work is ongoing in the committee. Democrats know that to fill the hole blindly without knowing what is causing it would be a mistake. If we don’t get at the real root of the problem, we won’t be able to fix it and prevent shortfalls in the future.
Already, Governor LePage has offered a number of excuses for his administration’s failure to manage a balanced budget.
First he said it was because MaineCare enrollment was up and we were covering far more people than he planned for. That was not true, and was proven wrong by his own department.
Then he blamed massive fraud in MaineCare for the budget hole, but the fraud prevention unit dispelled that myth too – fraud makes up a fraction of one percent of the MaineCare budget.
Then he blamed the federal government, and that turned out to be false as well.
Make no mistake – health care costs are outpacing what we expected to spend on them, and we have to balance the budget. Computer system changes continue to cause one-time budget problems, and changes in the way we pay hospitals are causing us to make adjustments, too. There are real problems to work on, and Democrats are ready to dig in and find solutions with Republicans.
The governor’s proposal before us will make things worse by increasing health care costs for everyone, filling up emergency rooms, closing health care centers, risking thousands of jobs and punishing Maine seniors, working parents and people living with mental illness and disabilities.
There is a smarter way, but it takes patience, detailed work, and facts. It takes reviewing what actually costs the most and finding a way to do it more efficiently. Five percent of all MaineCare patients are responsible for 55 percent of the entire program budget; we can manage those patients better and save money without just showing them the door.
If your grandmother’s medicine costs more than it did last year, you don’t get rid of your grandmother. That approach isn’t just short sighted and cruel – it also lacks the kind of thoughtful problem solving that Maine people count on from their leaders.
Democrats are taking a thoughtful approach to this budget: making smart choices about today’s budget challenges, but not losing sight of the fact that the legislature must get back to the work of improving Maine’s economy to make these lean years a thing of the past. The real solution to a budget problem is a healthy economy and that’s where our focus needs to be.
Democrats want to help Maine lead America into a new economy. The resources are all here — in Maine. We hope that Governor LePage and our colleagues across the aisle will get over their obsession with cutting health care for the poor and join us in doing productive work for all Maine people.
I’m House Democratic Leader Emily Cain. Thank you for listening.