- Associated Press - Tuesday, January 2, 2018

AUGUSTA, Maine (AP) - Maine lawmakers facing big budget items this year like voter-approved Medicaid expansion must also figure out the future of funding for a minimum security prison and care for individuals with intellectual disabilities.

Lawmakers passed a two-year, $7.1 billion budget last summer that funded some programs for just one fiscal year. They’re now considering whether to shell out another year’s worth of funding for such programs as they face Medicaid expansion to the poor that could ultimately cost $54 million.

The state may also have to return $51 million in federal funding already spent on a state psychiatric hospital.

Republican Rep. William Tuell is sponsoring a bill that would provide about $5.5 million to fund the minimum-security Downeast Correctional Facility in Washington County beyond June. The small prison has long been on the chopping block but Tuell argues closing it will strain the state’s criminal justice system.

“I know the money situation is difficult, but I would say if we don’t fund it, then we’re going to have more problems,” Tuell said. He said the closure could have ripple effects in a community that relies on jobs and prison labor, and that the state might have to pick up the tab in areas like social services.

The two-year budget also included $13.5 million for a year of funding for rate increases for home-based and community-based care for those with intellectual disabilities or autism. Lawmakers are set to consider Democratic Rep. Erin Herbig’s bill calling for two full years of funding.

Republican Gov. Paul LePage recently said that he does not intend to submit a supplemental budget calling for additional funding.

“As I have said on many occasions in the past, I believe in the biennial budget process; state government should live within its means for the enacted biennial budget period,” he wrote in a Nov. 13 letter to his administration. His office didn’t respond to a request for additional comment Tuesday.

The Legislature’s joint standing committee on the judiciary will also hash out the future of state funding for legal costs for the poor, and whether reforms would cost the state more.

Some Maine attorneys serving the poor worked without pay due to a funding gap last year, and the governor has repeatedly called for an overhaul of a system that he claims doesn’t ensure poor people are receiving quality care.

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