Mills' Supplemental Budget Proposal Could Change Drug Treatment Policy, Bicentennial Plans And More
The legislature’s budget-writing Appropriations Committee has started work on Gov. Janet Mills' proposed supplemental budget to pay the state’s bills through the current budget year, which ends July 1. But it does a lot more than that.
Maine Public Radio’s senior political producer Mal Leary spoke with Maine Things Considered host Nora Flaherty about the budget bill and what it means for the state.
Flaherty: What does this bill do besides moving money to pay the bills?
Leary: Well you’re right, it principally is shifting money around to pay bills that will be due by July 1. But it also is reversing some state policies dealing with drug addiction. For example, under MaineCare, there has been a 24-month lifetime limit for coverage of drugs like naloxone that reverse an overdose. And it also repeals a similar lifetime limit of 24 months of coverage for the use of methadone to treat addiction. So those are two policy changes that have some financial effect but not for some period of time.
Any other policy changes in this bill?
The bill reverses the decision by the LePage administration to eliminate any state correctional facility in Washington County. But it does not reopen the Downeast Correctional Facility that Gov. Paul LePage closed last year with great fanfare. It does authorize the Department of Corrections to build a new prerelease center Down East. The money for that was part of a bond issue that was actually authorized a couple years ago, but that money was never used by LePage. The operational funding to keep that new prerelease center going is in the proposed two-year state budget that the committee will start work on sometime next month.
Those are both pretty significant policy changes. What else is in this besides paying bills?
I guess I’d say this is sort of a policy change: LePage would only support a $75,000 appropriation last year to celebrate Maine’s bicentennial, which actually gets underway next January. Gov. Janet Mills has proposed a one-time $1 million appropriation to the state Bicentennial Commission. There was plenty of public testimony in favor of that appropriation. And members of the commission say they plan to match the money with private contributions of another $1 million. and all that money will be used to pay for a wide range of events and exhibits all across the state to celebrate the state’s 200 birthday.
That sounds like a very big birthday party. Are there any other surprises in this bill?
You might call an increased assessment on utilities a bit of a surprise. The public advocate is seeking $353,000 to pay bills resulting from the more cases and more complex cases that have come before the Public Utilities Commission. The advocate’s office has to hire expert witnesses to argue on behalf of consumers, and they’re not cheap — several are in the $30,000-$40,000 range — and the public advocate says the two-year state budget will provide for more expert witnesses because we have several major rate cases expected and all that costs money.
So what’s next with this budget? When will the full Legislature act on it?
When the public testimony ends the committee will then hold work sessions where they will be asking more specific questions about these proposals, any possible future costs that might happen as a result of the policy changes, for example. The committee hopes to get the budget bill completed so it could be acted on before they have to start the really heavy lifting of the committee, and that’s considering the two-year state budget that tops $8 billion.
This interview has been edited for clarity.