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LePage Battle With AG Splits State Budget Committee

AUGUSTA, Maine — The long-simmering battle between Gov. Paul LePage and Attorney General Janet Mills has caused a split in the Legislature’s budget-writing Appropriations Committee over the attorney general’s supplemental budget.  

At issue was the allocation of already appropriated funds for the Medicaid fraud unit in the attorney general’s office. The governor has refused to sign the financial order and his lack of action was defended by Republicans on the committee.

Sen. Roger Katz, R-Augusta, opposed the move by Democrats to allocate the funds outside of the financial order process.

"To pass this amendment would be circumventing the authority of the governor with respect to financial orders, which I think is a bad precedent whether we have a Republican governor or a Democratic governor," he says.

Majority Democrats on the committee argued the governor's refusal to sign the order allowing the spending of the funds is jeopardizing federal dollars that pay for most of the fraud unit, which goes after provider fraud in the multibillion-dollar Medicaid program.

"We do things that maybe the chief executive or the secretary of state or the attorney general’s office or  treasurer don't like or conflict with decisions they have made in their office," says Rep. Aaron Frey, D- Bangor. "But, because we are a co-equal branch, we can decide how we want the state's money to be spent, or allocated."

Attempts to put off the vote on the measure failed and the panel split on party lines, 7-5, to support the Democrats' version of the bill.

But while the panel disagreed on the attorney general's measure, it unanimously approved another supplemental budget bill that would provide funding for 29 new positions at the Riverview Psychiatric Center and would provide $2.5 million to close a gap in funding for jails across the state. The panel also unanimously rejected the governor's proposed $7.2 million in cuts to the Fund for Healthy Maine.

Both bills now go to the full Legislature for consideration.

Journalist Mal Leary spearheads Maine Public's news coverage of politics and government and is based at the State House.