As 2017 ends, I wish you all a healthy and prosperous new year and want to outline my legislative agenda for 2018.
Medicaid expansion will bring approximately $525 million of federal funds to Maine to cover the medical expenses of individuals in Maine with annual incomes of less than $16,000 and two-person households with incomes below $24,000. This will improve Maine’s overall health and productivity, reduce the liabilities for uncompensated charity care that are driving critical deficits in the budgets of rural community hospitals like MDI’s. It will also expand capacity for treatment for the state crisis of opioid addiction. This $525 million will support an estimated 4000 positions in healthcare and 2000 ancillary jobs.
In 2013 and 2014 the legislature enacted this expansion via five different bills each of which was vetoed by the governor. This past November, by an eighteen-point margin with broad geographical support, voters made this law by referendum.
The law requires the governor immediately to plan for expansion and to report monthly to the legislature on implementation until the expanded program is operational. By April, the governor must submit an amendment to the state Medicaid Plan to the federal government for approval and, by July, qualified Mainers must be be eligible for coverage.
Once the expanded program is fully enrolled, the state is expected to provide approximately $54 million in matching funds to draw the $525 million in federal funds. While last July’s contentious budget agreement left only about $15 million in the state’s immediate General Fund balance, revenue projections are positive for the upcoming years. We will have a much better understanding of the real fund balance after we receive the next revenue forecast in March.
I do not expect that an appropriation for the state’s share represents a crisis for the current biennial budget. All that is required is a good faith effort towards implementation from the executive branch and a commitment from both parties in the legislature to follow the requirement of the law. I know my colleagues on the Appropriations Committee are ready to solve the funding strategy once DHHS develops their implementation plan.
I can’t speak for the Governor, of course, but I am confident that the legislature is willing to tackle the challenge, as we do with many ongoing complex funding issues such as county jails, compensation rates for direct medical care and social services, indigent legal services, and expanding treatment for opioid addiction.
I am particularly proud of the changes in school funding policy negotiated in the current state budget. Increasing state subsidy for education by $162 million over two years allowed us to make significant structural changes in the distribution allocation which direct more funding toward economically disadvantaged students, new preschool programs, and incentives for regional collaboration between independent school districts.
But work is still in progress related to funding for career and technical education and for special education, particularly related to early education and students with disabilities in the juvenile justice system. That work will continue to have my attention this session.
The legislature’s special committee on marijuana worked diligently over the summer to develop a plan to regulate and tax retail sales of marijuana as directed by last year’s citizen referendum. Unfortunately, the legislature was unable to overcome the governor’s veto of that committee’s bill.
As a result, although marijuana usage and possession remains legal, communities across the state are left uncertain about how to deal with cultivation and sales. Resolving this will be a top priority for the upcoming session and I have confidence that the legislative committee will persevere. The committee has made extraordinary efforts to draw the governor back into negotiations. I trust that all sides now understand the urgency.
As the legislature was unable to enact updated policy for rates for distributed generation of solar electricity, the discussion is currently in dispute between the courts and the Public Utilities Commission. I am disappointed that we have so far been unable to enact a forward-thinking energy policy which I believe would put Maine on a more prosperous footing with a sustainable system with locally generated power.
As always, my focus will be on Maine’s long-term strategy for building a sustainable economy based on a skilled professional workforce and prosperous welcoming communities. In support of this, I continue to work on bills to provide bonding for scientific research and development, college affordability, and capital funding for Maine’s public colleges.
It is an honor to represent you in the Maine legislature. Please let me continue to hear from you and I wish you all the very best for 2018.