AUGUSTA, Maine — Some members of the Maine Legislature's budget-writing committee said Sunday they were surprised by the projected funding shortfall at the Department of Health and Human Services but Gov. Paul LePage was rebuffed when he tried to address the panel.
The Appropriations Committee held a rare State House meeting Sunday to ask Commissioner Mary Mayhew about her department's financial issues, two days after she told LePage that DHHS will run out of money to pay Medicaid providers in three weeks if money isn't appropriated by May 28.
Mayhew told lawmakers had plenty of warning but LePage wasn't allowed to address the committee.
Following a tense exchange with Sen. Dawn Hill, committee co-chairwoman, LePage left the near the end of the session but not before saying, "the people of Maine are being played for patsies."
Several Democratic committee members told Mayhew they were caught off guard by the timing of the upcoming shortfall and the May 28 deadline, and concerned that Mayhew told LePage instead of them directly of the upcoming shortfall.
Democratic Rep. Peggy Rotundo said it's "highly irregular" to be notified at such a late date that money for a program was about to run out.
"If we were going to be running out of money in two weeks, we should have been notified a long time ago," she said. "That's very concerning."
Mayhew she said her department's given ample warning that more money would be needed. She said the department will need about $35 million in additional funding through the end of the fiscal year, which ends June 30.
"We have not adequately budgeted for the general fund component (of Medicaid) as federal funds have declined," she said. She said it was previously made "clear we needed additional funds to make it through this year."
Some Republican committee members came to the defense of DHHS, saying Mayhew's announcement about the financial shortage was no surprise to them.
Both LePage and Democrats accused each other of playing politics.
"The governor did what he does best — he manufactured a crisis and poured fuel on the fire," Assistant Majority Leader Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, said in a statement after the hearing.