Early Saturday morning, Governor Paul LePage chose to line item veto two items in the General Fund Second Supplemental Budget proposal. This is the first time a Maine Governor has used the line item veto privilege. The two measures the Governor vetoed were related to General Assistance welfare funding and Disproportionate Share Hospital funding.
While the original General Assistance proposal featured tangible, long-term structural changes, the Legislature's amendment proposes short-term, one-time changes that expire at the end of SFY 2013. These include savings from pilot projects and work groups that are difficult to understand and impossible to predict.
General Assistance has been underfunded significantly in the past and this amendment assures that this trend will continue. The General Fund spending has grown from 6.7 million in SFY 2008 to a projected $14.3 million in SFY 2013. Without significant structural change, that growth will continue. Additionally, the Legislature has allowed for nine months of "emergency' housing support to continue in the welfare program. Nearly 90 percent of General Assistance funding pays for housing, which is far from its original intent. The original plan limited housing assistance to 90 days.
"General Assistance is a welfare program that, like most others, has gotten out of control," said Governor LePage. "The amounts vetoed will put this issue back on the table and the Legislature must summon the political courage to fix the program structurally. Hiding from our problems will not make them go away. The Maine people expect leadership and those in Augusta must deliver," added the Governor.
The second item Governor LePage vetoed relates the Legislature's revisions to the Supplemental Budget involving Disproportionate Share Hospital funding. The federal government has clarified that Disproportionate Share Hospital funding provided in the Medicaid program cannot be used for those involuntarily in secure public institutions, like Riverview Psychiatric Center (RPC), as a result of criminal charges. About half of the patients at RPC fall into this category.
The Legislature's modified proposal recognizes that some of the forensic population is not eligible for federal funding. But by failing to change the funding for all forensic populations, the Department is being asked to continue to draw federal funding for a population that is not eligible for reimbursement. The Legislature's revisions ignored rules governing federal compliance and audit warnings from the Department of Health and Human Services and the Attorney General's Office.