Archive for June 11th, 2013

Appropriations Committee Agrees Unanimously to Final Hospital Payment Plan, Refinancing Liquor Contract

Posted on June 11, 2013. Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , |

Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee members hard at work in May.

Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee members hard at work in May.

After Governor LePage on May 24 publicly vetoed LD 1546, which had provisions for expanding Medicaid, refinancing the liquor contract and paying the last payment on the hospital debt (that the Democrats have been paying down since 2006 under former Governor John Baldacci), it was back to square one for the three issues.

The first, LD 1066 “An Act To Increase Access to Health Coverage and Qualify Maine for Federal Funding” has now passed the Senate as amended and is working its way to the House, with expectations that it will be debated later this week- if not tomorrow.

That left the hospital debt and the liquor contract, in the form of Governor LePage’s bill LD 1555 “An Act To Strengthen Maine’s Hospitals and To Provide for a New Spirits Contract” as its own stand alone bill (it was referred to Appropriations and Financial Affairs committee on May 31).

tv hall of flagsSince then, the Governor has been impatiently tapping his toe, waiting and waiting and WAITING in frustration for his bill to come up for a vote in the Legislature.

To alleviate his boredom, LePage even went to Best Buy and got himself a new entertainment center on the taxpayers. The day after the bill was referred to AFA, the Governor in his weekly radio address demanded that Democrats “stop their deceitful gamesmanship”.

It needs to be noted that this statement by LePage was released to media on the same day as the committee was assigned the bill, with the Governor’s address embargoed until the following day, Saturday June 1- when the Legislature was not in session.

Who’s zooming who, Governor??

Earlier this afternoon, his office decided to nag a bit more with a late press release that read in part:

lepage head 2Governor Paul R. LePage today reminded Mainers that the hospitals still haven’t been paid.

    “It’s been 150 days and counting,” said Governor LePage. “How much longer must the hospitals wait? It is time to end the political games and get our hospitals paid. Democratic leadership has not allowed an up-or-down vote on my plan. Let’s get that vote, let’s get the hospitals paid, and let’s get our fiscal house in order so I can release job-creating bonds before the entire construction season ends this summer.”

    House Republican leaders Tuesday joined Governor LePage calling on Democratic leadership to bring forward the bipartisan measure to pay off Maine’s hospital bills without delay.

Within an hour of the Governor’s latest missive came word that the Appropriations Committee has unanimously passed an agreement on LD 1555. Here is part of their press release:

    Lawmakers on the State Legislature’s Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee on Tuesday afternoon unanimously approved a measure to make a final payment on Maine’s hospital debt and refinance the state’s liquor contract.

    dawn hill“Today we are one step closer to another attempt at paying back the hospitals,” said Senator Dawn Hill, D-York, the Senate Chair of the Appropriations Committee. Recently, the governor vetoed our last effort. We all agree that we need to make the final payment to our hospitals, and it’s important we make the payment in a timely manner.”

    The bill is the second measure passed this session to make a final payment on Maine’s hospital debt. Governor Paul LePage vetoed the first, LD 1546, last month. This bill makes the final payment to Maine hospitals totaling $485 million in state and federal dollars. By paying the hospitals prior to October 1, 2013, the state will save $5 million. The payment would trigger a federal match of $298 million, completing final payment to Maine’s hospitals.

    peggy rotundo“This final payment closes a decade long chapter of repaying our debt to Maine’s hospitals,” said Rep. Peggy Rotundo, D-Lewiston, the House Chair of the Appropriations Committee. “Our hospitals are key to the health of our community and this final payment makes good on the lifesaving work that our nurses and doctors do for Maine families.”

One wonders how the Governor will react to getting his way… as well as the Republicans that supposedly continue to support him.

Will we see a continuation of “Chain of Fools” or will someone from his party finally get through about the value of “R-E-S-P-E-C-T”?

Stay tuned…

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ICYMI: Maine Republican Legislators Present Alternative to Controversial LePage Budget

Posted on June 11, 2013. Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , |

Last week, Maine Republican legislators held a press conference in the State House Welcome Center, rolling out a non-leadership legislative member budget plan. This was in response to news of the Appropriation Committee’s ongoing efforts the previous day to come to a compromise on the FY 14-15 budget, in particular the zero revenue sharing portion as presented by Governor LePage.

Order of speakers: Rep Paul Davis (Sangerville), Sen. Doug Thomas (Somerset), Rep. Lawrence Lochman (Amherst), Rep. Heather Sirocki (Scarborough), Sen. David Burns (Washington), Sen. Andre Cushing (Penobscot).

gop budgetGarrett Martin, executive director of the Maine Center for Economic Policy (MECEP), called the proposal from legislative Republicans to restore $368 million to the state budget “a step in the right direction.” But he cautioned members of the Legislature’s budget-writing appropriations committee to reject the Republican proposals to tax nonprofits and take over the assets of the Maine Health Access Foundation to raise additional revenues and seek other “realistic revenue alternatives.”

    “Yesterday, legislative Republicans acknowledged the need to break with the governor and restore $368 million to the state budget in order to avoid property tax increases on hardworking Maine families,” Martin said. “Some of the most conservative members of the Republican Party joined in this appeal that includes new revenue. MECEP has maintained all along that Maine working families need a budget that funds our schools, protects our elderly and disabled, and gives our economy a boost without crushing property tax increases. Republican admission that additional revenues are needed to balance the budget is a step in the right direction.

    Yesterday’s proposal did not include realistic revenue alternatives,” Martin said. “The proposals to tax nonprofits and take over the assets of the Maine Health Access Foundation amount to a ‘hail Mary’ pass in the wrong direction. There are much better alternatives that we urge members of the appropriations committee to consider.”

The budget, which finally after an extremely long session received unanimous approval from the Appropriations Committee, was the focus of the Governor’s weekly address last Saturday and will go to the full Legislature later this week.

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Maine Senate Passes Initial Medicaid Expansion Bill LD 1066, 23-12

Posted on June 11, 2013. Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , |

Last week, the Maine Senate voted 23-12 on LD 1066 “An Act To Increase Access to Health Coverage and Qualify Maine for Federal Funding” which would expand healthcare coverage to nearly 70,000 low-income and working Mainers. Assistant Minority Leader Roger Katz (R-Kennebec) added a “sunset provision” amendment of three years to the bill, which was supported by himself and fellow Republican Senators Pat Flood (Kennebec) Tom Saviello (Franklin).

Earlier he expressed support for a stand alone version of Medicaid expansion, as did Senator Brian Langley (Hancock) and Pat Flood (Kennebec).

Many of the GOP caucus rose to speak in opposition, including Minority Leader Senator Mike Thibodeau (Waldo).

Senator Doug Thomas (Somerset)

Senator James Hamper (Oxford)

Senator Garrett Mason (Androscoggin)

Senator David Burns (Washington)

Senator Andre Cushing (Penobscot)

Democrats stood together and supported the now stand alone measure, as they had LD 1546 a few weeks ago.

“People’s lives are on the line. We must put politics aside and do what is right for the people of Maine,” said Senate Majority Leader Seth Goodall of Richmond (VIDEO). “We cannot be siloed in one belief or another. When you need health care you are not thinking about political party lines, you are trying to do what’s best for your health. We have an opportunity to get it done and help Maine people.”

“Building a strong economy and a strong middle class means making sure people have the health care they need, when they need it, at an affordable cost,” said Senator Geoff Gratwick of Bangor who is a practicing physician. “Accepting federal funds will strengthen Maine’s economy and provide health coverage to thousands of hard-working Mainers.”

“My philosophy is that everyone should have health insurance,” said Assistant Majority Leader Troy Jackson of Allagash (VIDEO). “If I wasn’t serving in this chamber, I would be one of the people covered under this act. I assure you I am able bodied, but without health insurance I would be 100% ruined at this point. The last operation I had cost more than $120,000. I won’t make that much money in six years. I don’t know what I would do if I didn’t have health insurance.”

Governor LePage’s office was quick to release a statement:

    “I will not entertain any discussions about welfare expansion until these 3,100 disabled and elderly Mainers are taken care of,” the Governor said. “The Legislature has ignored the needs of these citizens for years, but now the Democrats want to expand welfare to able-bodied adults with no children. Not only is that bad public policy, it’s a disgrace.”

    The Governor said his administration is still in negotiations with the federal government to get waivers that would allow the state to fix fraud and abuse within Maine’s welfare system. Welfare expansion would cost Maine millions of dollars annually if fraud and abuse in the existing system is not addressed.

    “Until we crack down on the fraud and abuse that robs hard-working Mainers of their tax dollars, I will not discuss any efforts to expand welfare,” the Governor said. “We do not need to burden hard-working taxpayers with additional costs for those who are not disabled. The Democrats have to stop discriminating against the disabled and elderly and treat them fairly.”

The House will take up the bill later this week.

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Legislature Kills LD 1549, Proposed Lobster Bycatch Bill

Posted on June 11, 2013. Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , |

Members of the Maine Lobstering Union speaking with senators.

Members of the Maine Lobstering Union speaking with senators.

Members of the Maine Lobster Union met with legislators last week to urge them to vote against LD 1549 “An Act To Provide an Exemption for Incidentally Caught Lobsters” and held a press conference in the Hall of Flags, making their case against the bill, put forth by Senator Anne Haskell (D-Cumberland).

Originally intending to allow holders of a commercial fishing license who caught lobsters in their nets to possess and / or sell the accidentally caught crustaceans as is allowed in Massachusetts and under federal law, the bill instead placed those few remaining licensees in position to do what opponents called irreversible damage to the lobster industry and thousands of jobs as a whole, as the sustainability of the industry would be compromised by the taking of breeding stock and over-sized lobsters.

Senator Haskell is lobbied by members of Maine Lobstering Union.

Senator Haskell is lobbied by members of Maine Lobstering Union.

In the Senate floor debate, sponsor Anne Haskell acknowledged the concerns of the lobstermen, but also stated that as the practice is allowed in federal waters, that not one lobster would be saved by her colleagues voting against the bill.

Fisherman Jim Odlin, who operates three vessels out of Portland, supported LD 1549 asked, “The question is, does Maine want to have a small toe-hold in what’s left of the groundfishery, or do we want to give it up all together?”

Members of the union disagreed.

    Joel Pitcher of Jefferson: “This bill would cause harm to this important Maine industry and to the thousands of men and women and families who depend upon it.”

    Rock Alley of Jonesport: “It’s only going to annihilate our breeding stock of lobsters by allowing these fish draggers to come in.”

photo (13)

After the initial Senate vote of 28-7 opposing the bill, the union released the following reactions:

    Rock Alley: “We’re very pleased that the Senate voted down LD 1549 today. Dragging for lobsters is fundamentally damaging to the resource that we are working so hard to protect. As lobstermen, we need the Legislature to enact laws that will help us protect our industry. We want our children and grandchildren to have the chance to preserve our way of life on Maine’s islands and coast, and that depends on the sustainability of the industry.”

    Joel Pitcher: “Today’s vote showed strong support here in Augusta for Maine’s hardworking lobstermen. We thank the Senators who opposed loosening dragging regulations and stood in support of a sustainable Maine lobster industry. We will continue to work hard to ensure this bill meets final defeat.”

Ultimately the Legislature voted to kill the bill.

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