Archive for February, 2014

BREAKING: Feds Find LePage, MDOL Officials Intervened in Unemployment Hearings (UPDATED X 9, W/ Timeline)

Posted on February 27, 2014. Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , |

(5pm UPDATE, x9): Reaction from Maine AFL-CIO President Don Berry:

    “The federal government has confirmed what we knew to be true, that the Governor was wrong to interfere in the unemployment insurance process by asking hearing officers to rule more often in favor of employers. This is another message from Governor LePage to struggling Maine workers that he is not on their side. When you lose your job, times are very tough. Workers need to know they have a fair process to seek the support that they deserve. Instead of kicking them when they are down, we need a Governor who will support laid-off workers getting back on their feet.”

———-

(3:30pm UPDATE, x8): More reactions from Maine lawmakers and first mention of calls for LePage’s impeachment.

Legislative Democrats and their allies were quick to condemn the LePage administration, with Senate Majority Leader Troy Jackson of Allagash, a longtime LePage rival and Democratic candidate for Maine’s 2nd Congressional District seat, calling for his impeachment.

Sen. John Patrick, D-Rumford, who chairs the Legislature’s Labor Committee, said the Department of Labor’s findings came as little surprise.

    “This is a good thing because everyone in Maine knows the governor uses the bully pulpit to express his feelings about his political views and politics,” said Patrick. “After this, I wonder how you can trust the governor to move forward fairly and in an unbiased way. The citizens of Maine expect that whether it’s a Democrat, a Republican or a Green, that we are fair to our businesses and employees.”

Jackson was less guarded in his response.

    “I think he should be impeached,” said Jackson of LePage. “The governor thinks he should be the next [Wisconsin Gov.] Scott Walker, but he should be thinking about being the next [impeached and jailed Illinois Gov.] Rod Blagojevich.”

———-

(2:30pm UPDATE, x7): Here comes the national focus. Via The Nation: “Maine’s Paul LePage Might Just Be the Worst Governor of All”

———-

(2pm UPDATE, x6): U.S. Congressman and Maine Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mike Michaud took to Facebook and Twitter to issue a statement:

    “Both employers and employees should have confidence that the state is treating them fairly and following the rules. It’s clear from the U.S. Department of Labor’s letter that Gov. LePage allowed his personal bias against Maine workers to create a situation in which impartial hearing officers felt threatened. His actions and the actions of his appointees were inappropriate and reinforce a disturbing pattern of mismanagement and intimidation.” – Mike

———-

(1:45pm UPDATE, x5): Maine Senate and House Democratic leaders and members of the legislature have now issued a press release.

    “For three years we have heard story after story about the Governor’s intimidation and bullying tactics. Today, the cat’s out of the bag. Governor LePage and his political appointees will stoop to any level of intimidation to get what they want,” said Sen. Troy Jackson of Allagash, the Senate Majority Leader.

    “This is further confirmation of the governor’s ongoing mismanagement. He is governing by intimidation,” said House Majority Leader Seth Berry of Bowdoinham. “He is trying to hurt working Mainers.”

The Legislature’s bipartisan Government Oversight Committee has been reviewing the matter since April 2013 and will discuss the Federal Government’s findings during their meeting tomorrow at 9 a.m.

    “The federal investigation shows that our concern about political interference from the administration was legitimate, and validates the need for a closer look at the hearings process generally,” said Senator Emily Cain the Senate Chair of the Government Oversight Committee. “I am not relieved by these findings. There continue to be questions about the lengths to which this administration will go to get its way.”

Rep. Chuck Kruger, the House Chair of the Government Oversight Committee, requested an investigation into the claims of worker intimidation following initial media reports on the March meeting at the Blaine House.

    “At the time we requested the investigation we sought to sort rumor from fact,” said Rep. Kruger. “The federal findings confirm our fears of an attempt to unduly influence hearing officers. We will be reviewing the letter for recommendations and next steps.”

———-

(1:30pm UPDATE, x4): Maine State Employees Union President Ginette Rivard has released a statement:

    Statement by Ginette Rivard, President of the Maine State Employees Association, SEIU Local 1989, Concerning the Report of the United States Solicitor of Labor on Improper Interference by the LePage Administration in the Unemployment Appeals Process:

    “After conducting an exhaustive and careful investigation, the United States Department of Labor issued a report confirming that the LePage Administration sought to unduly influence the decisions of impartial hearing officers employed by the Department of Labor. This report confirmed that the Administration pressured hearing officers to favor employers. The pressure was exerted both directly by the Governor, at a lunch on March 21, and prior to that date by other political appointees.

    “While the conclusions vindicate the earlier claims brought forward by the news media and other sources, the report includes few detailed facts. It recommends that Maine government examine the situation to determine whether additional steps are needed to protect hearing officers from undue political influence.

    “This report confirms that a problem of undue influence existed, both in the March 21 lunch and before. That problem remains, and needs to be addressed. The Governor’s defiant and belligerent response to this report shows that he will not reform his administration on his own. It is time for the Government Oversight Committee to step up to the plate and perform its own investigation into the critical questions that remain:

      1. Did the Administration seek to exert undue influence on the unemployment appeals process, either at the March 21 lunch or at other times?
      2. Are there steps that need to be taken to insulate state workers from political influence?

    “On behalf of MSEA-SEIU and the thousands of state workers we represent, I want to thank the Hearing Officers for their courage in resisting this pressure, and for their dedication to providing a just and prompt hearing process.”

———-

(1pm UPDATE, x3): Maine Department of Labor Commissioner Jeanne Paquette has now issued her own statement:

    “Although this process has generated much controversy, the outcome is positive for both workers and businesses. No one benefits when either employees or employers abuse the system,” stated Commissioner Paquette.

    Maine’s unemployment system by statute gives the authority and responsibility for its adminsistration to the appointed commissioner and the appointed members of the UIC. As commissioner, my job is to ensure not only due process for both employers and employees, but also that the unemployment system is fair, efficient and responsive and follows the law. I appreciate the concerns that both the USDOL and the Blue Ribbon Commission have raised, and I will do my utmost to continue to safeguard both the integrity of the system and the confidence of Maine’s people.”

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(12:30 pm UPDATE, x2): Maine Governor Paul LePage issued the following statement moments ago via press release regarding today’s report:

lepage sots angry self

    “The results of the review are no surprise,” said Governor Paul R. LePage. “The USDOL confirmed that there are legitimate concerns about the appeals hearings, which echoes the findings in the Blue Ribbon Commission I appointed. The review found that Maine’s appeals system has not been consistent in applying the law.

    “It is also no surprise that the Obama Administration’s Department of Labor is speculating my administration somehow tried to influence the hearings process,” said the Governor. “This issue has been politically motivated from the start, starting with Democratic activists in Maine and reaching all the way to the White House. The USDOL review found no evidence of wrong-doing, but uses conjecture and supposition to come to a conclusion that has no basis in fact. The focus of my administration is to ensure the appeals process is fair and consistent for both Maine employees and employers.”

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(12 pm UPDATE WITH TIMELINE)

  • 21 Mar 2013- Maine Governor Paul LePage holds a meeting with MDOL officials and employee compensation hearing officers at the Blaine House.
  • 22 Mar- Hearing officer Wayne Reed sends email to chief hearing officer (4/17/13 PPH):

      “In the decades I’ve been doing this work, I’ve never seen anything like it, from either end of the political spectrum,”
      wrote Wayne Reed. “For purposes (of) keeping political pressure/bias out of (a) quasi-judicial process within the Maine Department of Labor, these are dark times.”

    Reed’s supervisor Linda Rogers-Tomer replied:

      “Despite the pressures that are being placed upon us, we still just have to do our jobs, self-insulating from the politics, doing what we think is right and doing that as expeditiously as possible,” Rogers-Tomer wrote. “I know that in this climate it is hard not to second guess ourselves.”

    She then had a phone conversation with Jennifer Duddy, LePage’s lone appointee to the state’s Unemployment Compensation Commission and later emailed Laura Boyett, director of the state Bureau of Unemployment Compensation:

      “I expressed my angst about (Duddy’s) remarks at the (meeting), mostly about it not being the proper forum for that kind of discussion and (that it) blindsided us,” Rogers-Tomer wrote. “(Duddy) was sorry if anyone felt badly about what she said, but that she had no regrets about saying it or saying it in that forum. I am extremely upset right now, so can’t really talk.”

  • Apr 11- Bangor Daily News reports that state employees accuse the Governor of putting pressure on them.
  • Apr 17- Governor LePage announces “Blue Ribbon Commission” to investigate unemployment compensation system.
  • Apr 18- The LePage administration refused to admit that there is a federal investigation into the claims.
  • May 1- U.S. DOL investigating attorney Letitia Sierra arrives in Maine to speak with 13 attendees of the meeting.
  • Jul 11- “Blue Ribbon” panel members named: Augusta resident Daniel Wathen, a Maine Turnpike Authority board member and former chief justice of the Maine Supreme Judicial Court, and George Jabar II, a Kennebec County commissioner and lawyer from Waterville, as co-chairmen of the panel; others are David Walck, owner and franchisee of several Dunkin’ Donuts restaurants, including one in Lincolnville; Shawn Anderson, chief operating officer of Cary Medical Center in Caribou; Christine Hastedt, public policy director for Maine Equal Justice Partners; and Kristin Aiello, managing attorney for the Disability Rights Center of Maine.
  • Dec 10- LePage’s “Blue Ribbon Commission” reports no bias issues within MDOL’s systems.
  • Dec 13- The feds said to be “finishing up” their investigation.
  • Feb 27, 2014- Feds release findings; confirm LePage pushed jobless benefits appeals officers to show ‘bias toward employers’.

———-

After almost a year of multiple interviews as part of an investigation by federal authorities into allegations that Governor Paul LePage and Maine Department of Labor officials pressured MDOL administrative hearing officers to be more pro-employer in its findings on appeals of unemployment claims, the results of the findings was released this morning and find that the Governor and others did indeed interfere.

The letter can be seen below.

Here may the crux of the matter, as outlined by the Justice Department:

    DEPRIVATION OF RIGHTS UNDER COLOR OF LAW

      Summary:

      Section 242 of Title 18 makes it a crime for a person acting under color of any law to willfully deprive a person of a right or privilege protected by the Constitution or laws of the United States.
      For the purpose of Section 242, acts under “color of law” include acts not only done by federal, state, or local officials within the their lawful authority, but also acts done beyond the bounds of that official’s lawful authority, if the acts are done while the official is purporting to or pretending to act in the performance of his/her official duties. Persons acting under color of law within the meaning of this statute include police officers, prisons guards and other law enforcement officials, as well as judges, care providers in public health facilities, and others who are acting as public officials. It is not necessary that the crime be motivated by animus toward the race, color, religion, sex, handicap, familial status or national origin of the victim.

      The offense is punishable by a range of imprisonment up to a life term, or the death penalty, depending upon the circumstances of the crime, and the resulting injury, if any.

      TITLE 18, U.S.C., SECTION 242

      Whoever, under color of any law, statute, ordinance, regulation, or custom, willfully subjects any person in any State, Territory, Commonwealth, Possession, or District to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured or protected by the Constitution or laws of the United States, … shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than one year, or both; and if bodily injury results from the acts committed in violation of this section or if such acts include the use, attempted use, or threatened use of a dangerous weapon, explosives, or fire, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than ten years, or both; and if death results from the acts committed in violation of this section or if such acts include kidnaping or an attempt to kidnap, aggravated sexual abuse, or an attempt to commit aggravated sexual abuse, or an attempt to kill, shall be fined under this title, or imprisoned for any term of years or for life, or both, or may be sentenced to death.

(This is a breaking news and will be updated as needed.)

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(UPDATED) Weekly Address of Governor Paul LePage, er, DHHS Commish Mary Mayhew: “Most Vulnerable Will Keep Paying the Price for Medicaid Expansion”

Posted on February 25, 2014. Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , |

(4:30 PM UPDATE): MDOL Commissioner Jeanne Paquette apparently didn’t think that her communications director Julie Rabinowicz expressed the department’s views clearly enough and as such, submitted her own statement moments ago:

    Statement from Commissioner Paquette: Growing Medicaid Budget Forces Cuts That Prevent Mainers from Getting Trained for New Jobs
    For Immediate Release: February 25, 2014

    Contact: Julie Rabinowitz, 207-621-5009

      AUGUSTA— Commissioner of Labor Jeanne Paquette has issued the following statement describing the effects of the growth of DHHS’s budget on the Department of Labor’s ability to assist the long term unemployed and the underemployed.

        Growing Medicaid Budget Forces Cuts That Prevent Mainers from Getting Trained for New Jobs

      Governor Paul R. LePage has said that because Maine already expanded welfare a decade ago, “Medicaid is now cannibalizing funding from all other state agencies.” This is particularly true in the Department of Labor, where loss of General Fund revenue has prevented many of our citizens from getting a hand up—not a handout—with a good job.

      Many of DOL’s job training programs and other initiatives to help businesses hire skilled workers were once funded by General Fund revenue or a mix of state and federal funding. But state funds have been cut drastically, leaving DOL dependent on shrinking federal dollars—dollars that come with many restrictions.

      Investments in job training targeted to high-wage, in-demand jobs provide a significant return; in general, trainees earn higher wages with better benefits than they did upon entering the program. The department’s programs are needed the most during economic downturns, yet our funding has declined, while demand for our services has increased.

      The department has not been able to sustain a number of programs that help people transition from unemployment and welfare back into the workforce.

      Forced by state funding cuts, DOL in 2007 and 2008 had to close almost half of its 22 CareerCenters, including sites in Rumford, Dover-Foxcroft, Ellsworth, Houlton, Belfast, Saco and Waterville, as well as satellite locations in Newcastle, South Paris and Madawaska. Little did the state realize how critical this decision would be just a few years later as these communities dealt with the recession.

      These closures severely limited Maine’s ability to assist the unemployed, making job-search support and job-training services much harder to access.

      Funding for another program, the Maine Enterprise Option, is gone. This program helped unemployment recipients start their own businesses by providing business management training. Running this program requires our staff to track and evaluate participants to ensure compliance with program requirements.

      Between 2006 and 2012, 2,730 people were trained to start businesses, including web and graphic design, bookkeeping, restaurants, dog grooming and bed and breakfasts. But federal Workforce Investment Act funding for this program went away, and we have no state resources to fund it. So DOL stopped enrolling people in 2012.

      The Department of Labor no longer upskills workers through the Governor’s Training Initiative, which was funded at a little more than $3 million in 2004, fell to $501,984 in 2010, then dropped to zero dollars in 2011.

      Just this year, the Legislature swept $2.5 million from the Competitive Skills Scholarship Program fund to balance the budget. This fund, paid by employers through an offset to unemployment taxes, helps low-income individuals train for high-wage, in-demand jobs. That $2.5 million would have trained an additional 360 people in 2014.

      Funding for the Maine Apprenticeship Program fell from a high of $622,907 in 2004 to $436,040 in 2013. In fact, current funding will not meet the needs of the existing sponsors/apprentices in our state.

      Focusing apprenticeship expansion efforts in Maine’s high-growth, high-wage industry sectors—healthcare, energy and precision manufacturing, for example—could increase training opportunities for unemployed or underemployed adults and teens. Apprentices earn while they learn; therefore, these people could be earning wages instead of collecting benefits.

      There are other programs that DOL cannot implement due to a lack of state funding. These are programs that would help develop Maine’s economy by creating a pipeline of skilled workers—something businesses look for when deciding to locate in a state or region.

      The department could offer a subsidized wage program to wean people off unemployment while allowing them to receive on-the-job training in a new career or with a new employer.

      The department could conduct an annual job vacancy survey of employers. This would provide real-time data to ensure that our scarce training resources are invested in skills and occupations that employers are actually looking for and hiring.

      The state could implement the industry partnership program for workforce development—a program included in last year’s budget by the legislature but not funded. Industry partnerships have been effective in other states to leverage private-sector support to develop industry-specific training. Maine’s recent healthcare sector grant showed that we have the ability to do this and our people and our businesses can reap huge rewards from implementing this collaborative training model.

      It’s the same refrain. No money for training. But training is an investment with a return—better jobs with benefits, higher wages and a career ladder for future promotions, economic growth and a brighter future for our children.

      Sadly, Maine has to forego this investment to feed the beast that is DHHS. DOL has utilized best practices and streamlined where ever possible—doing more with less.

      But if Medicaid expansion continues to absorb a greater portion of the state’s General Fund dollars, departments like Labor will ultimately be doing “less with less”—the opposite of the best interests of unemployed and underemployed Maine citizens.

    Commissioner Jeanne S. Paquette brings more than 20 years’ experience in human resources and workforce development to the Department of Labor. She is a member of the Society for Human Resource Management Maine State Council’s HR Hall of Fame.

———-

Last night progressive site Dirigo Blue broke the news that that either Governor LePage’s office or DHHS enlisted the communications directors from other Maine state agencies to lobby against Medicaid expansion:

lepage sots angry self

  • John Bott – Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry
  • Doug Dunbar – Office of Fiscal and Program Review
  • Scott Fish – Department of Corrections
  • David Heidrich – Department of Administrative and Financial Services (DAFS)
  • Jennifer Smith – Department of Administrative and Financial Services
  • Jessamine Logan – Department of Environmental Protection (DEP)
  • Stephen McCausland – Department of Public Safety
  • Jeff Nichols – Department of Marine Resources (DMR)
  • Julie Rabinowitz – Department of Labor
  • Ted Talbot – Department of Transportation (DOT)
  • Doug Ray – Department of Economic and Community Development
  • Samantha Warren – Department of Education (DOE)

Now this afternoon comes the weekly address from Governor LePage’s office, shared with no embargo. In the past, First Lady Ann LePage has stepped in for her husband on rare occasions, but this address by DHHS Commissioner Mary Mayhew is an unprecedented move by the administration and signals there will most likely be push back on earlier reports of GOP lawmakers working with their majority Democratic counterparts to expand Medicaid.

Below Mayhew’s radio address are the letters from those communications directors, as shared by LePage’s office last night.

Audio link here. Most Vulnerable Will Keep Paying the Price for Medicaid Expansion

      Most Vulnerable Will Keep Paying the Price for Medicaid Expansion


    Difficult decisions must be made in Augusta. Tough choices are needed to ensure that state government can live within its means and that we can support and care for those who need us most.

    An irate DHHS Commissioner Mary Mayhew answers questions asked by Rep. Peter Stuckey (D-Portland) on January 14. Beside Mayhew is Gary Alexander, who had previously spoken to the HHS committee about his infamous report denouncing Medicaid expansion.

    An irate DHHS Commissioner Mary Mayhew answers questions asked by Rep. Peter Stuckey (D-Portland) on January 14. Beside Mayhew is Gary Alexander, who had previously spoken to the HHS committee about his infamous report denouncing Medicaid expansion.

    Hello, this is Maine Department of Health and Human Services Commissioner Mary Mayhew.

    Currently the Legislature is debating whether to add another 100,000 people to MaineCare, the state’s tax-payer funded healthcare program, at a cost of more than $800 million over the next ten years.

    At the same time, there are thousands of elderly and disabled on waitlists for services to help support them in their homes and in their communities.

    Most of us know someone in this situation. It’s an 80 year old mother who is struggling to care for her 50 year old son with Down syndrome. She needs help today and is worried who will care for her son when she is no longer around.

    It’s the parents of an autistic child who should be celebrating the accomplishment of their child graduating high school. But instead, they are panicked because their child is being placed on an adult waitlist for critical support services. Their child cannot be home alone.

    Maine is one of the oldest states in the country and the demands for services will only be increasing in the years to come. Everyone is worried about how best to care for an elderly parent, grandmother, aunt, or uncle.

    These are real people – the elderly and developmentally disabled – and far too many of them are waiting for services. The state needs more than $45 million to cover the services for these individuals.

    There are tough decisions that must be made in Augusta. We just finished paying off a $750 million debt owed to Maine hospitals because of the unbudgeted costs of the last expansion. We cannot repeat history and expect a different outcome.

    Democrats say that adding 100,000 people to Medicaid is somehow free, but we all know better. Medicaid has grown by more than $1 billion over the last ten years because of previous expansions and the reality of healthcare cost increases. It is nonsensical to believe that after years of financial crisis in Medicaid that the answer today is to add another 100,000 people to the program. Don’t be fooled by efforts to combine expansion with a fancy legislative proposal to manage care in Medicaid. The miraculous savings being advertised are not real and are only thinly veiled efforts to get support for a massive expansion of Medicaid.

    Mayhew fields all questions from Maine media regarding the $900k+ Alexander Report, while Gary Alexander stands silently by. He did not say one word to Maine press, who were instructed by Mayhew that she would be the only one speaking to them about the report.

    Mayhew fields all questions from Maine media regarding the $900k+ Alexander Report, while Gary Alexander stands silently by. He did not say one word to Maine press, who were instructed by Mayhew that she would be the only one speaking to them about the report.

    We do not live in a world of unlimited resources.

    If the state expands Medicaid our elderly and disabled will wait longer for services. That is a price we cannot afford to pay.

    Efforts to contain spending in the Medicaid program should be focused on meeting the needs of our most vulnerable and addressing other critical needs in state government like pay for state employees whose salaries have been frozen for years, investments in career centers to help people find jobs, or really funding education or helping to preserve important industries in Maine like lobstering, natural resources, and farming.

    Government cannot be all things to all people and we must put our most vulnerable citizens’ needs first and ensure that state government is effectively prioritizing our limited resources in the best interests of the future of this state.

    Thank you.

Video of DHHS Commissioner Mary Mayhew after the HHS Committee hearing on the Alexander report:

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(UPDATED) Maine GOP- Yes, REPUBLICANS!- To Attempt Compromised/ Combined Medicaid Expansion Bill

Posted on February 25, 2014. Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , |

(11:45 AM UPDATE) The plan has now been released and as anticipated, it involves combining proposals from Senator Roger Katz and Speaker of the House Mark Eves:

      A key Republican senator on Tuesday will release his proposal to expand the state’s Medicaid program to more than 60,000 low-income Mainers, a move that could reshape a fiercely partisan debate that has raged at the State House for over a year.

      The proposal, sponsored by Sen. Roger Katz, R-Augusta, the assistant minority leader, is the result of a six-month effort to build support to expand a publicly funded health insurance program that has traditionally provoked fierce ideological and philosophical opposition among Republicans for its results and costs.

      Lawmakers will take up Katz’s bill before they tackle a separate expansion proposal sponsored by House Speaker Mark Eves, D-North Berwick.

Katz’s proposal includes a three year “sunset provision”, which he floated out to lawmakers as an amendment during last year’s LD 1066 floor debate. That motion passed the Senate by a 23-12 vote.

Democrats released more information on the proposal and statements from leadership:

    Democratic Leaders Issue Statement on Republican Health Care Expansion Proposal

    AUGUSTA — Top Democratic leaders in the Maine House and Senate issued the following statements in response to a proposal from Senate Republican Leader Senator Roger Katz of Kennebec to accept federal funds to provide healthcare coverage to 70,000 Mainers, including nearly 3,000 veterans.

    In addition to accepting the federal funds, Sen. Katz’s proposal would:

    • Put in place a plan to reduce the wait list for individuals with intellectual disabilities seeking MaineCare services like home care;
    • Call for managed care to reduce healthcare costs;
    • Fund two new Medicaid fraud investigators in the Attorney General’s office;
    • Conduct a feasibility study to review Arkansas’ and Iowa’s plans to use the federal dollars to purchase private insurance;
    • Include a sunset provision after three years when federal reimbursement reduces to 95 percent and an opt-out provision if the match rate goes below 100 percent during the first three years. 

    Speaker of the House Mark Eves of North Berwick and Senate Majority Leader Troy Jackson of Allagash sponsored two separate measures to accept federal funds, and issued the following statements.

    DEMOCRATIC STATEMENT ON REPUBLICAN PROPOSAL

    Speaker of the House Mark Eves and Senate Majority Leader Troy Jackson wait before presenting their bills before HHS Committee.

    Speaker of the House Mark Eves and Senate Majority Leader Troy Jackson wait before presenting their bills before HHS Committee.

    “We view the proposal as a step forward after months of debate over how to ensure more families can have access to a family doctor,”  said Speaker of the House Mark Eves of North Berwick. “Our priority has always been securing life-saving health care for 70,000 Maine people. While we have been skeptical of managed care programs in the past, we look forward to hearing the details of the Republican proposal. We will want to make sure that the emphasis is on quality treatment; not simply denying care.”

    “The people of Maine are counting on us to do right by them. They’ve put their faith and their trust in us and asked us to represent them to the best of our abilities,” said Senate Majority Leader Troy Jackson of Allagash. “Health care is a right, and lawmakers who get health care from the state should think twice before denying it to their constituents.”

    Senator Katz is expected to present the Republican proposal to the Health and Human Services Committee on Wednesday at 3 p.m.

    ###

——————————————————

Rumor overnight via Maine Wire about state GOP lawmakers making a move to expand Medicaid seems to be accurate:

Senate Minority Leader Roger Katz (R-Kennebec)

Senate Minority Leader Roger Katz (R-Kennebec)

A pair of Republican state senators are set to roll out a bill that would expand the state’s Medicaid program, MaineCare — a proposal that so far has been largely opposed by Republican Gov. Paul LePage and rank-and-file members of the party. On Tuesday, state Sen.’s Tom Saviello, R-Wilton and Roger Katz, R-Augusta, will unveil their plan to members of their party during a caucus meeting and then take their pitch to the editorial boards of two of the state’s daily newspapers.

Democrats have also been uncharacteristically quiet about the measure, which would allow the state to accept federal funding to expand the state’s low-income health care system under the federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

But state Sen. Margaret Craven, the Senate chair of the Legislature’s Health and Human Services Committee, said she was setting aside time Wednesday for her committee to hold a public hearing on the measure.

The bill, LD 1487, “An Act To Implement Managed Care in the MaineCare Program” was carried over last July and as such, needs a simple majority to pass both chambers. However, it would need 2/3s vote as an emergency bill and to override a veto from Governor LePage, who is vehemently opposed to expansion.

Current thought is that LD 1578, “An Act To Increase Health Security by Expanding Federally Funded Health Care for Maine People”, would be tacked on as an amendment to the bill.

The Joint Standing Committee on Health and Human Services is scheduled for 3 pm work sessions tomorrow on LDs 1636 and 1663 after the conclusion of the legislative session (audio link here).
The news has garnered some positive and negative reactions among Republicans. Former LePage communications director Dan Demeritt posted on Twitter:

House GOP Communications Director David Sorensen fired off a press release before the senate caucus to media. Here is a portion:

      “Medicaid Mythbusters Round 1”

    Many of those eligible for Medicaid under an expansion would already be eligible for a federal health care subsidy, were they to buy their own health insurance on the private market.

    – The U.S. Congress, “can’t be trusted to sustain its Medicaid funding promises,” suggesting the state would be stuck footing the bill for any health care expansion.

    – An expansion of Medicaid would cause further defunding of existing state government programs including those that help pay for nursing home care.

Sorensen later took to Twitter himself, to share the following slap-down:

So what does all of this mean?

It would finally mean expansion of Medicaid to 70,000 Mainers, which Democrats have tried to do but been unsuccessful both as LD 1546, “An Act To Strengthen Maine’s Hospitals, Increase Access to Health Care and Provide for a New Spirits Contract” , the combination hospital debt payoff- Medicaid expansion- liquor contract bill and as the stand alone bill LD 1066, “An Act To Increase Access to Health Coverage and Qualify Maine for Federal Funding”.

This story is still unfolding and will be updated.

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LePage Reneges on $100M Statewide Maine Jobs Bond Contracts, Day 3: MaineDOT Projects in Peril?

Posted on February 24, 2014. Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , |

Feb. 22—Maine Governor Paul LePage and Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant at the Homeland Security & Public Safety Committee session, which was about the future of the National Guard.

Feb. 22—Maine Governor Paul LePage and Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant at the Homeland Security & Public Safety Committee session, which was about the future of the National Guard (photo via NGA).

We are giving Governor LePage a pass on the “Day Count” for Saturday and Sunday, as he was down in DC for the NGA winter meetingwell, until yesterday morning at least.

He inexplicably skipped last night’s dinner with President and Mrs. Obama at the White House, as well as multiple meetings today with the President and Vice-President Biden.

Hey, waitaminute… Anyone else remember when LePage pulled out of NGA?

    LePage said he will attend the winter meeting, held in Washington, D.C., because of its sessions with President Barack Obama and cabinet members. But he said he has no use for the other meetings held by the group.

    “I get no value out of those meetings,” he said. “They are too politically correct and everybody is lovey-dovey and no decisions are ever made. There are some tough decisions that need to be made in this country and we need to start making them.”

(If anyone can make sense of his thought processes, oh do please- let the rest of Maine in on the trick…)

Fortunately, the Kennebec Journal helpfully shared this (Governors: ‘ObamaCare here to stay’) for LePage, so he can be up to speed on what he missed and via AP, gave Maine a shout-out:

    …governors from both parties report that a full repeal of the law (ACA) would be complicated at best, if not impossible, as states move forward with implementation and begin covering millions of people – both by expanding Medicaid rolls for lower-income resident or through state or federal exchanges that offer federal subsidies to those who qualify.

    A recent Associated Press analysis of the sign-ups found that six Republican-led states – Florida, Idaho, Maine, Michigan, North Carolina, and Wisconsin – were on pace or better than the states had initially projected.

Oh dear.

Onward to Day Three!

———————————————

Last August, Maine Governor Paul LePage recorded a video, urging support for a $100 million transportation bond as a means of “supporting economic development and jobs”.

It was a politically motivated plea sent out directly at the public for a solitary transportation bond to be put on the November ballot. He also called for a special session and once the dust settled on that special session called for by the Governor, there was agreement on a slew of bonds to go before voters.

Four in particular are of interest, as they related directly to bonds for higher education and transportation:

Voters in November passed all four of the above bonds by wide margins and as the Secretary of State’s office “Citizen’s Guide 2013” points out, all passed measures go into effect 30 days after the election results are certified.

Governor Paul LePage and MDOT Commissioner David Bernhardt release 3 year statewide Work Plan in North Augusta.

Governor Paul LePage and MDOT Commissioner David Bernhardt release 3 year statewide Work Plan in North Augusta.

On January 13, Maine media was advised by Maine DOT press secretary Ted Talbot that there would be a press conference rolling out an ambitious statewide transportation plan the following day. Inside a North Augusta MaineDOT garage, Governor Paul LePage, Senator Ron Collins (R-York), MaineDOT Commissioner David Bernhardt and others gathered as LePage and Bernhardt released MDOT’s statewide 3 year, $2B work plan:

    The Maine DOT’s “Three Year Work Plan” will use $100 million in state transportation bonds – approved last November by voters – and federal highway funds to pay for more than 1,600 projects from now until 2016 in all 16 of the state’s counties.

    In 2014, a total of 425 projects are scheduled at a cost of $455 million.

    “The work plan represents more than a listing of projects,” LePage said during a news conference in Augusta. “Our transportation infrastructure is the backbone that delivers economic opportunities and good-paying jobs to Maine. That’s why I will continue to support the Maine DOT’s innovative efforts to upgrade our transportation system and to keep stretching that buck.”

The governor commented that this was a non-partisan effort:

    “The bond package was approved by about 70 percent of the voters in Maine. So it was a non-partisan effort,” LePage said. “Everybody worked together on it.”

As there was quite a bit of ongoing bickering over the budget, revenue sharing, the infamous Alexander Report and Medicaid expansion a few miles away at the State House, media questioned the Governor after the presentation about those topics instead of the MDOT work plan.

LePage minced no words as he attacked Democratic lawmakers:

    “The boogey man in the room…”

    “It’s just the opposite of what the opponents say. Let me tell you something… I hear, Mark Eves says… (unintelligible) “tea party guy”… it takes one to know one. When I was a Democrat… I was a Democrat- until- I learned how to count. You see that? I learned to count; I became a Republican. Because they’re giving you smoke and mirrors. They gave us smoke and mirrors in 2002 and they’re doing it again today.

    Let me tell you something else that you don’t… Democrats… there’s going to be several nursing homes closing, because they’re not covered. And we have the waiting list, that’s not covered. So all of these things that they … Democrats say are gonna happen are wrong. They’re simply wrong.”

… and that he has “no power” with this legislature, among other claims.

    “I have no power when it comes to this legislature. They do what they damn well please.”

So at no time in January did the Governor publicly threaten to renege on the transportation bond. In fact, on the following day (January 15), his weekly address stressed that “Maine has an obligation to help our most vulnerable and pay its bills”.

At the time of the work plan roll out, Associated General Contractors of Maine executive director Matt Marks was quoted by MPBN:

    The work will provide badly needed jobs in Maine’s construction sector, where as recently as early last year, says Matt Marks, unemployment topped 26 percent. Marks is executive director of Associated General Contractors of Maine.

    “Last year, I worried about the talented constructors who would leave Maine for jobs in other states,”
    he said. But Marks says unemployment among his membership has now dropped to 16 percent, a downward trend he expects will continue, as the 2014 transportation projects get under way this spring.

    The Transportation Department says it’s confident it will secure the state and federal funds it will need to complete the more than 1,000 projects scheduled for 2015 and 2016.

Here is the list of contracts awarded so far, updated as late as February 14. It will be interesting to see how they react to news of the Governor’s refusal to honor the state’s signed contracts and whether the work already scheduled will be able to continue.

——————–

*RELATED:

1. BREAKING: Governor LePage Reneges on $100M Jobs Bonds; Bounces $59M State of Maine Check
2. LePage Reneges on $100M Statewide Maine Jobs Bond Contracts, Day 2
3. (Aug 2013 Review) Governor LePage (Video): Support of the Transportation Bond Supports Economic Stability and Jobs

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Alan Tibbetts Announces Candidacy for House District 77 (Sidney, Oakland)

Posted on February 24, 2014. Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , |

(Originally posted 2/18/14; updating with campaign website and corrected Facebook campaign page links)

Via press release:

AlanTibbettsFilePhotoAlan Tibbetts has announced he will be a candidate for State Representative in District 77 which includes Sidney and most of Oakland.

“I’m running as a common sense voice for the people of Oakland and Sidney, to represent their interests, not the special interests,” Tibbetts said. “We need jobs that pay living wages, health care that is both affordable and ethical, and our personal privacy must be better protected. I’m tired of seeing people that work hard and play by the rules keep losing ground because the people in power keep changing the rules. It’s time that political power returns to the people where it belongs.”

Alan grew up in Eustis. The son of a logger and school teacher, he graduated from the University of Maine with a bachelor’s degree in political science. After serving on active duty, Alan returned to Maine and joined the National Guard. He was in command of units which provided assistance to Maine towns during the flood of ’87 and again during the ice storm of ’98.

After 33 years of service, Alan retired from the Guard as a Lieutenant Colonel in 2013.

Alan, his wife Kathy, and their two children, Heidi and Brian, have lived in Sidney for 18 years.

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Louis Sigel Announces Senate District 14 Run

Posted on February 24, 2014. Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , |

Gardiner resident Louis Sigel has thrown his hat into the open SD 14 race. A reminder: The seat is currently held by Senator Pat Flood (R-Winthrop), who recently said he does not plan not to run for re-election; former State Senator Earle McCormack (R-West Gardiner) has decided to run for his old seat again. Former Hallowell Mayor David Bustin made his intentions to run for the Democratic slot known recently as well, setting up a primary race.

The candidate took to Facebook last week to make his announcement:

louis sigel

    I am running for the Maine State Senate District 14–Gardiner, West Gardiner, Chelsea, Randolph, Pittston, Farmingdale, Hallowell, Manchester, Winthrop, Readfield and Monmouth.

    I am running to assure future budgets always include full 5% revenue sharing and full 55% state aid to local education–it is definitely not ‘welfare for towns and cities’, but it is clearly spelled out in Maine law and yet it is ignored and cheated on!

    I want Medicaid expansion to provide health insurance for the 70,000 left out and with no options simply because their incomes are too law for the health insurance marketplaces–and that includes 3,000 veterans.

    As far as veterans are concerned, I want veterans’ pensions treated the same as Social Security and thus exempt from the state income tax; and I want the state Bureau of Veteran Services to adopt a commitment to coordinate federal, state, and local services, both public and private to end veteran homelessness in Maine.

    I want to fulfill and extend the Affordable Care Act in Maine with a Maine health insurance mandate, Maine-run health insurance marketplaces for individuals and for small businesses [preferably set up by the proven winners–Deloitte Consulting], adopting a Maryland-style hospital rate-setting board [so all Maine hospitals charge all patients the same for the same procedure]’ and abolishing the Certificate of Need procedure for investment in the healthcare sector.

    I want to extend and expand campaign finance reform in Maine to include referendum and People’s Veto campaigns and require corporations to poll their stockholders each and every time they want to make campaign contributions in Maine political campaigns.

    I want to promote tax reform based on Democratic principles of focusing on fairness, transparency and the ability to pay.

    I will actively oppose any efforts that restrict women’s reproductive rights, suppress or discourage voting, or weaken necessary environmental protections.

    So anyone interested in donating to my seed money to launch my campaign is very much appreciated–I can raise up to $1500 from any individuals who are US citizens with a $100 limit on contributions. My intention, of course is to run as a Clean Elections publicly-financed candidate!

He elaborated further:

    Why am I running? I am running because I have been active on the Democratic Platform Committee and want to see that the platform becomes policy through legislation–especially a compact between the state and the towns and cities.

    I would welcome any support for my candidacy for Maine State Senate District 14:
    Make it Legal with Sigel!

    I am attempting to run as a Clean Elections candidate, so at this point contributions up to $100 from any US citizen are welcome toward the ‘seed money’ total of $1500 maximum

    So any contributions to: Sigel for Senate 2014 are greatly appreciated.

    As I said previously ‘Make it Legal with Sigel’ means following the law by
    1) Full 5% revenue sharing
    2) Full 55% state aid to local education
    3) State assuming its responsibility for teacher pensions and not pushing any part on to local education budgets
    4) Medicaid expansion
    5) Reinvigoration and extension of the Maine Clean Elections system–restoring gubernatorial coverage and providing for additional funding
    and more
    and yes, of course, I fully support a sensible, Maine-based approach to marijuana and recognize that the current prohibition is a failure!

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Maine State Sen. Linda Valentino (D-York) Floor Speech Opposing Religious Discrimination Bill LD 1428 (Video, Text)

Posted on February 23, 2014. Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , |

Last week, the 126th Maine State Legislature took up LD 1428, “An Act to Protect Religious Freedom”. The bill was voted down Tuesday in the Senate by a 19-16 vote and finally died with a 89-52 tally in the House on Thursday.

Judicial Committee Chair Senator Linda Valentino (D-York) rose to speak quite strongly and eloquently in opposition to the bill. Here is video of her floor speech presented on Tuesday to her colleagues with the senator’s prepared remarks.

Thank you Mr. President. Mr. President, Men and Women of the Senate, I rise today to say that I support religious freedom. And if I had to venture a guess, I would guess that almost everyone in this room, if not every person in this room, supports religious freedom.

I support the First Amendment of the United States Constitution. I support Article 1, Section 3 on religious freedom in the Maine Constitution. I even support the title of this bill, “An Act to Protect Religious Freedom.”

What I do not support is this bill. Bill titles do not become part of Maine Law.

I do not cast my vote based on the title of a bill. I cast my vote for the contents of the bill, for this is the part that will be entered into Maine Law.

The First Amendment of the United States Constitution, states, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; …

When our founders drafted the Constitution “religious freedom” and “equality” were lofty ideals, not reality. There was no equality for women or poor people or people of color. Religious freedom may have extended to people’s rights to worship and congregate, but certainly not to politics or jobs.

Many people may not realize that when the First Amendment was enacted, it applied only to laws passed by the U.S. Congress. State and local governments could abridge the free exercise of religion as long as there was no similar provision in their State Constitution. In South Carolina and Georgia’s original constitutions it stated that only men of the Protestant religion were eligible to sit in the House of Representatives. In Maryland, it wasn’t until 1828, that Jewish Americans were eligible as candidates to the Legislature.

Growing up in a very poor Irish-Catholic family in Portland, my father was a paper boy. One of his routes was the very exclusive West End. Hundreds of times I heard the story about his grandmother warning him that if he wanted to keep his job that if he ever met a person of a specific “privileged” religion on the sidewalk, in the West End, he was to get off the sidewalk and walk in the gutter until the person passed.

He also told me about signs for job openings hanging in shop windows saying “Catholics need not apply”. This was in the 1940’s.

Over the last 200 years, people in both Maine and the nation have fought hard to extend religious freedom to all denominations. I do not want to roll back any of the protections and advances we have made in religious freedom.
I admire the integrity and the beliefs of the sponsor of this bill and those who support it, and I do not question his motives for the bill, but we differ in our opinions.

I see this bill as a step backwards.
I see this bill filled with unintended consequences.
I see this bill being used as a vehicle for extremists to hide behind the words “religious freedom” as a way to circumvent our anti-discriminate laws.
And I see this bill being used as an end run around the Maine Human Rights Act.

So why do people feel we need this law?

    • One of the biggest reasons we uncovered during the public hearing on this bill was that people did not know their rights under current Maine law. For example: A woman said she was not allowed to wear a cross necklace at work, while others wore necklaces. Yes, she was discriminated against, because she did not know that Maine law protects this religious freedom. Another said their child was not allowed to bring a Bible to school. Yes, they were discriminated against, because again she did not know that Maine law protects this religious freedom. Children can bring a Bible or other religious book to school. It is school organized religion, or someone forcing their religion on another, in school that is prohibited. This RFRA bill will not give them anything they don’t already have for protections. People need to know their rights.

    • Another example, was the South Bristol Elementary School boat launching ceremony. This boat launching had been done for 18 years, and each time a pastor was asked to recite a blessing, asking for safe passage of the boats that the students built. In 2013, they did not conduct the blessing. Why? Because prior to the boat launching – someone complained!
    This caught the attention of a Washington based group who threatened to sue, claiming that a prayer at a public school event violated the Establishment Clause. The school backed down. Even if RFRA had been in place, the public school would not have been able to say the prayer. Again, people need to know their rights. Just because no one had complained for the past 18 years, didn’t mean they were allowed to say a prayer.

So why don’t we need this bill?

    • Religious freedom is protected in Maine under the Constitution and there was no evidence given that Maine’s existing religious protections were not working.

    • Religious freedom is explicitly protected in Maine under the Human Rights Act.

    • There are 34 religious exemptions in Maine Title 5 law that protect religious freedom – in everything from property taxes, immunization, school absences, smoking, polygraph tests, highway signs, food safety, workers compensation, prisoner’s rights, alcohol and drug counseling,- to name just a few.

    • Plus under Title 22, Health and Welfare, Maine has two statutes that protect physicians, nurses, health care workers and others from having to perform or assist in any act pertaining to an abortion.

    • Many people mistakenly believe this bill will allow the navitity scene back at City Hall or some other religious display. It does not do this, or any other specific example. It only allows a claim or defense in a judicial proceeding. You must bring action in court against the government. Which are those who make the laws.

Why now? What has happened to bring this bill forward? I don’t know, but I do know that:

    • Although the first state passed a RFRA-like statute 17 years ago, according to research from our Law Library, this bill has never been introduced before in Maine.

    • I also know that in 2012, same-sex couples won their freedom to marry by changing Maine law through the citizen initiative ballot process.

    • And also in 2012, the Affordable Health Care Act was passed by Congress and a ruling was made which required health plans to cover contraception. To date, 90 cases have been filed using state RFRA acts to challenge this one ruling under the Affordable Care Act. The Hobby Lobby case is the test case. This case is before the United States Supreme Court and oral arguments are scheduled to be heard on March 25. This is a case where the owner of the company is using RFRA and his religious freedom to deny contraceptive coverage for his 13,000 employees. Maine should not pass anything until this case is decided.

Since this bill was never introduced prior to 2012, it makes me wonder if this bill is really about religious freedom, or is it about trying to erode existing women’s rights and gay rights that we have fought so hard for?

We cannot use religious freedom as a vehicle to circumvent Maine’s strong anti-discrimination laws. Maine has a history of working hard to strike a balance between religious freedom rights and the right to equal protection under the law. We have a strong Human Rights Commission to uphold the Human Rights Act and we have strong Maine case law based on well-defined facts.

There are over 10,000 religious denominations in the world, with 50 to 100 known ones in Maine. According to survey results in the Portland Press Herald, 70.8% of Maine people responded that they do not identify themselves with any particular religion. If we pass this bill what happens to their rights?

I would like to close by reading an email that I received yesterday urging me to defeat this bill. It says:

    “As a Christian minister, I’m offended when religion –any religion— is used as an excuse to deprive others of their rights as human beings. We need to send a message to those who would do so, that in the State of Maine, legalized bigotry will not be tolerated.”

Supporters of the bill have not demonstrated any factual problems with our current laws. Please follow the bi-partisan Majority Report and vote ought not to pass on LD 1428.

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(Aug 2013 Review) Governor LePage (Video): Support of the Transportation Bond Supports Economic Stability and Jobs

Posted on February 23, 2014. Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , |

(Originally posted 12 Aug 2013) Here we go again- Governor LePage is gonna get all bothered if he doesn’t get his way! Check out the latest “Blusta Outta Augusta”

      Governor LePage: Support of the Transportation Bond Supports Economic Stability and Jobs

    The growing debate over whether the Legislature should move quickly to pass a transportation bond comes down to one thing – jobs.

    As your Governor, I want Mainers to have good-paying jobs, and I want businesses to have the support to expand in our great State.

    As lawmakers examine nearly a billion dollars of bond projects, our Administration is asking for just one bond to go to voters this November.

    Our Administration, in March, proposed a $100 million transportation bond, which allows the Maine Department of Transportation to plan projects for the next three years.

    It provides $81 million for improvement to highways and bridges, and it provides job stability to those in the construction industry, where more than 8,000 jobs have been lost since 2006.

    We designate another $19 million for improvements to multimodal facilities that would support projects, such as major development on the Portland waterfront, as well as preserving rail connections for Maine businesses.

    Our roads and ports continue to be a focus of economic opportunity that helps create jobs. But the federal government has flat funded transportation projects, and vehicles that are more fuel-efficient are generating less revenue in fuel taxes. With those decreases in revenue, this bond is needed now.

    Even with the approval of $100 million bond, Maine’s highway and bridge programs are still facing a funding shortfall.

    Democratic leadership so far has failed to act, and timing is critical. The Secretary of State’s Office needs bonds approved for the November ballot by the middle of August. The early deadline ensures our military troops overseas receive an opportunity to vote – surely a right our uniformed men and women deserve.

    With strong bipartisan support from Democrats and Republicans alike, there should be no hold up on this transportation bond. There will be time in January to continue the bond debate for other projects.

    Once again, we are at a crossroads. Democrats have a choice. They can do the right thing by supporting economic development and jobs or they can delay again.

    The time to act is now and Mainers are depending on us.

Someone ought to tell the Governor to wait a second- he’s not fooling ANYONE. Back when he first proposed his transportation bond package, folks could smell a rat- and LePage admitted himself who that rat was:

    During a State House news conference Thursday morning, LePage admitted that he’s holding $105 million in bonds already approved by voters “hostage” to his hospital debt proposal. Those bonds include $51.5 million for transportation projects.

    “I’ll admit it. It’s the only way I can get anything done upstairs, is, you’ve got to threaten them,” LePage said. “They won’t get it done unless I force it. If I release those bonds today, the hospitals won’t get paid this year, and that’s a fact.”

Why, it’s as if LePage forgot when he all but told Skowhegan and House Asst Majority Leader Rep. Jeff McCabe to, as Gerald at Dirigo Blue put it, “go pound sand”… while helping Livermore Falls.

But McCabe has had the Governor’s number for years…

    jeff mccabe

    “I represent Skowhegan in the Maine Legislature. Our community was slated to receive 400,000 dollars thanks to a downtown improvement program funded by the bond package voters passed in 2009.

    Voters knew that it’s a good time to make these strategic investments. Interest rates are low, Maine is in good shape to bond, and the program supports local jobs and helps communities improve their downtowns, where local businesses thrive.

    Skowhegan’s plan was approved. The town signed contracts with the state, hired engineers and started renovations. We have spent nearly 40,000 dollars, and local businesses have raised more than half a million dollars to match the grant.

    So you can imagine our shock when Governor LePage went back on the state’s promise to help us fund our project on schedule. He told us that he’s holding the money, and he can stall on issuing the bonds for as long as five years if he wants to.

    Nearly a dozen other towns, like Eastport, Monmouth, Rockland and Winthrop all qualified for funds to redevelop their downtowns and create new local jobs. We were all ready to go, and we all got the same message from Governor LePage – we’ll get the money when he feels like it.”

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LePage Reneges on $100M Statewide Maine Jobs Bond Contracts, Day 2

Posted on February 21, 2014. Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , |

(Following up on last night’s news: “BREAKING: Governor LePage Reneges On $100M Jobs Bonds; Bounces $59M State Of Maine Check”)

To review, here is the email shared last night:

lepage sots angry self

Neria,
I will not approve going to market until there is $60 MM in the Rainy Day Fund. I will not subject the state to further credit reduction. In the past the Treasurer would keep the Governor updated on cash expenditures, you have chosen not to.

Governor Paul R. LePage

A reminder: LePage accused Douglass last year in June of holding up issuance of the bonds, which was proven false and refused to sign them until the hospital debt was paid. On July 3, the governor shifted the blame for the bond issuance delay onto Democrats and in August, he applauded the Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee for approving the bonds package that included $35M to higher education improvements such as Maine Maritime Academy in Castine and Maine Community College System.

In September, Maine Maritime Academy first broke ground on the ABS Center for Engineering, Science and Research- the first classroom facility built on campus in thirty years. From a press release:

“Enrollment at MMA has expanded from 650 to 950 full-time students over the last 15 years. During that time, there has been little expansion of educational facilities on our campus,” said Dr. William J. Brennan, President of Maine Maritime Academy. “The new facility is an investment in our students, in the technology necessary for the specialized education we provide, and in the industry-relevant research our faculty and students are immersed in here on campus.”

The new building will be a hub for joint student/faculty research projects, including low-emissions biofuels development and testing, wind turbine design, tidal and wave hydrokinetic devices, ocean studies research, and many other topics.

In January, construction began on the site:

mma castine abs

Maine Maritime Academy has begun construction of the first academic facility to be built on the college campus in 30 years: the ABS Center for Engineering, Science and Research. The construction process is estimated to be complete in 12 months, with occupancy planned for January, 2015. When complete, the 3-story, 30,000-square-foot building will provide state-of-the-art teaching and research laboratories, classrooms, student study spaces, faculty offices and workrooms in the heart of the campus.

In November, Maine voters approved $4.5 million in state funding to support the public-private partnership to build a new facility. The remainder of the funding needed to accomplish the estimated $14 million project is being raised through generous gifts, pledges and challenge grants from alumni, friends of the college, businesses and foundations.

“With the successful passage of the bond issue and ongoing fundraising efforts we are nearing our funding goals for the project,” said Maine Maritime Academy President, Dr. William J. Brennan. “We are also fortunate to have an experienced construction team from Nickerson & O’Day who are determined, even with the extreme weather since December, to stay on schedule.”

“We are very happy to have a chance to work with Maine Maritime Academy again,” said Karl Ward, President of Nickerson & O’Day, citing student housing construction and renovation projects the company has completed on campus over the past 20 years. “We’re also excited to be a part of advancing the college’s work in engineering and research.”

The new building will be home to renewable energy and ocean energy labs, as well as the new Marine Engine Testing and Emissions Laboratory (METEL), for which the U.S. Department of Transportation awarded the Academy $1.4 million to focus on research and development of emissions reductions technologies and engine efficiency technologies for marine and related power plants.

neria_headshot_web_smallEarlier today Maine Treasurer Neria R. Douglass shared a timeline of over 40 pages of compiled communications in a timeline from May of last year to present with the Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee, detailing the emails between her department, the Governor’s office, and information on the various projects already in process.

When contacted about the news of LePage’s refusal to issue the jobs bonds, Dr. William J. Brennan, President of Maine Maritime Academy, had the following reaction:

“We are not aware that this would affect the bond funding that was approved for Maine Maritime Academy. The State has given us the green light to begin construction on the ABS Center, and the project is underway.”

Bangor Daily News reports that there has been no response yet from the governor’s office:

LePage has said previously said that he would withhold up to $100 million in voter-approved bonds because of a bill passed recently by the Legislature that restores $40 million in revenue sharing to Maine towns and cities that was cut as part of the two-year budget passed by the Legislature last year. LePage proposed last year in his biennial budget bill to cut revenue sharing completely for two years, but the Legislature restored some of that funding over LePage’s objections.

Lawmakers also agreed to seek alternative revenue sources to restore the $40 million revenue-sharing cut in the budget. A task force could not agree on those measures, so Democrats on the budget-writing Appropriations Committee put forth an alternative plan.

That revenue-sharing bill, LD 1762, would take $21 million from the rainy day fund, which currently has about $60 million in it, as well as $4 million from a fund designed to accumulate budget surplus for the purpose of eventually reducing the state’s income tax and $15 million from surging unappropriated revenues. The bill, which had strong bipartisan support in the Legislature, is on LePage’s desk awaiting action.

Today Governor LePage issued a press release through the Maine Department of Labor, which read in part:

Revenue Forecast Flat for FY 2014 and 2015
Budget Balancing Challenges Remain

The Maine Revenue Forecasting Committee (RFC) met today to discuss the spring economic forecast due to the Governor and Legislature no later than March 1, 2014.

The RFC will formally submit its report next week; however, at the meeting today the committee publicly stated that General Fund revenue forecast would remain virtually unchanged since their last update in November 2013.


“Democrats on the Appropriations Committee were unwilling to wait on the Revenue Forecasting Committee’s forecast before casting their votes to raid the State’s limited rainy day reserve fund,”
said Governor Paul R. LePage. “They will now be forced with making tough choices to ensure the State replenishes the reserves to a balance of at least $60 million to try and avoid a bond rating downgrade this spring.”

Which is to say, LePage refuses to budge one iota.

Democrats were quick to point out to media that LePage and the 125th Legislature drew down from the state’s budget stabilization account themselves to cover budget shortfalls created by tax cuts to the rich:

Key Points:

· In 2011, the LePage administration and the Republican-led legislature drew down $27 million from the account to balance its budget, which included a $400 million income tax cut that primarily benefited the wealthy.

· Under the Democratic proposal, LD 1762, the budget stabilization account would simply return to similar levels as in 2012. The proposal temporarily draws down $21 million from the state’s budget stabilization fund often referred to as the “rainy day fund.” It later directs any year-end surplus to replenish the account.

· Democrats drew down funds from the state’s budget stabilization fund to ensure that the State could keep our commitment to Maine towns to help keep property taxes from spiking. The bipartisan bill to blunt municipal revenue sharing cuts prevented a 79 percent cut in the state’s obligation to our communities.

rainy day

(This story is still unfolding and will be updated as necessary.)

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BREAKING: Governor LePage Reneges on $100M Jobs Bonds; Bounces $59M State of Maine Check

Posted on February 20, 2014. Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , |

bounced check(Breaking story; this will be updated)

Via Maine Senate and House Democrats came the following press release within the past half hour:

      LEPAGE RENEGES ON STATEWIDE JOBS BOND CONTRACTS
      Seven months after authorization, Governor changes mind

    Augusta – In an email to State Treasurer Neria Douglass, Governor Paul LePage reneged and cancelled his authorization of nearly $100 million in bond monies for projects across Maine.

    Douglass shared the message with the state’s budget writing committee on Thursday afternoon during a previously scheduled briefing on the state’s debt service or interest for the bonds.

      “Governor LePage has broken a $59 million contract with businesses and workers across Maine. The line has been crossed when the governor’s emotional volatility starts hurting Maine’s economy and Maine’s workers,” said Senate Majority Leader Troy Jackson of Allagash. “I am concerned for the businesses and projects that have started their work and now hear that the governor has changed his mind.”

    According to Douglass, per the directive from Governor LePage, she has already issued $59 million in funding from the state’s cash pool to help fund key projects in the administration’s work plan. These projects were approved and signed off on by Governor LePage and his department officials on July 31, 2013.

      “The Treasurer raised serious concerns about the message the Governor is sending to credit agencies and businesses. He’s broken his word,” said Assistant House Majority Leader Jeff McCabe from Skowhegan. “Worse, he’s playing games with critical investments in construction projects like roads and bridges that will help Maine’s economy.”

    LePage has a track record of using bonds as political leverage with the Legislature. He refused to issue the voter-approved economic investments during his first two years in office, stifling economic growth and job creation.

    Two weeks ago, during a Maine Chamber of Commerce event, LePage threatened again to withhold bonds if the Legislature passed a measure restoring the state’s funding promise to towns and cities across Maine. Both bodies of the Legislature passed the measure with overwhelming bipartisan support, reaching a veto-proof, two-thirds passage with votes of 33 — 2 in the Senate and 120 — 17 in the House.

    Maine now ranks 50th among all other states in private sector job growth since January 2011, according to the Maine Center for Economic Policy’s analysis of Bureau of Labor Statistics, Regional and State Employment and Unemployment Data.

Below is the email that Treasurer Neria Douglass sent Governor LePage on February 10th:

    From: Douglass, Neria R
    Sent: Monday, February 10, 2014 5:03 PM
    To: Millett, Sawin; Butera, John
    Subject: Bonds in FY2014


      Hello, Sawin and John.

      I am concerned that recent newspaper reports state that the Governor is now saying he will not go to market and will withhold state bonds.

      So far the Treasurer’s Cash Pool has expended $52,114,073 in funds that will have to be replaced by the sale of bonds before the end of this fiscal year. We have requests for $84,042,798 that include $21 million for Transportation, together with a long list of other projects. Maine Maritime, the University of Maine, and the Maine Community Colleges are moving forward with projects that I expected to fund from the TCP and then reimburse from the sale of bonds.

      I would appreciate your thoughts on this problem. I am reluctant to continue funding while these statements are being made publically. Of course underwriters and others read the newspapers too.

      Best,
      Neria

    Neria R Douglass JD CIA
    Maine State Treasurer

lepage sots angry selfHere is the reply Douglass received this morning and shared with Democratic leadership, as referred to in the above press release:

    From: Mullen, Micki
    Date: February 19, 2014, 8:45 AM EST
    To: Douglass, Neria R
    CC: Butera, John , Millett, Sawin , Newman, Kathleen
    Subject: FW: Bonds in FY2014

      Treasurer Douglas,

      The Governor responded to your email as follows:

        Neria,

        I will not approve going to market until there is $60 MM in the Rainy Day Fund. I will not subject the state to further credit reduction. In the past the Treasurer would keep the Governor updated on cash expenditures, you have chosen not to.

        Governor Paul R. LePage

      Thank you,

      Micki

    Micki Mullen
    Executive Assistant to Governor Paul R. LePage
    State House Station #1
    Augusta, Maine 04333-0001
    Phone: 207-287-3531
    Fax: 207-287-1034
    Visit: http://www.maine.gov

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