Boomerang Bills: Medicaid Expansion, Revenue Sharing- Now Right to Work?

Posted on February 4, 2014. Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , |

In 2011, Maine Governor Paul LePage made noises similar to many other tea party colleagues around the country by introducing so-called “right to work” (anti-union) bills LD 309 and LD 788. Both died in committee and never got to a 125th Legislative floor vote.

Paul LePageLast year the 126th legislature took up a variety of highly politicized and much discussed pieces of legislation that ultimately failed to garner enough support to override the ever active veto pen of Governor Paul LePage, including LDs 1546 (the combined hospital payment, liquor contract and Medicaid expansion effort) and 1066 (the stand-alone Medicaid expansion bill).

The governor’s 2013 budget included at its very foundation a complete removal of municipal revenue sharing, which ultimately was decided by lawmakers as LD 1509. LePage had long threatened to veto his own budget if Appropriations amended it, so it came as no surprise when he did so, but had the 126th legislature not come together to override the veto last June (Roll calls here for Senate and House) Maine would have faced its first government shutdown in decades.

LePage then warned legislators that he didn’t intend to change his focus, not one bit:

    Playing politics is easy; governing effectively is hard. As Chief Executive, I take my responsibilities on behalf of the people of Maine seriously.

    Our Administration has worked hard to change the attitude within government and has brought more transparency to government than any recent administration. We work with citizens and businesses to solve problems. We strive to be efficient and responsible with taxpayer dollars. And we only introduce public policy that benefits Mainers and our state.

    I do not form opinions about policy based on party lines. Our Administration identifies the problem, reviews the options, and develops a plan. I stand by my principles and I don’t know any other way than to fight for what I believe in.

    Maine has challenging issues that must be addressed. While we have the lowest unemployment rate in years, we need to become more competitive.

    Electricity prices must be lowered and government spending must be curbed. I want Maine businesses to have the opportunity to thrive and create new jobs, and I want you to keep your hard-earned money not give it to government.

    Furthermore, the taxes the Legislature just raised on you were completely unnecessary.

Fast forward to now the second half of the 126th session- and once again, all three have come flying back into Augusta.

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.

It started with the reintroduction of a pair of Medicaid expansion bills offered by Speaker of the House Mark Eves (LD 1578) and Senate Majority Leader Troy Jackson (LD 1640).

Then on January 17, there was a public hearing before the Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee on LR 2721,“An Act Related to the Report of the Tax Expenditure Review Task Force”, which would work to restore revenue sharing between the state and local municipalities. More than 80 Maine municipalities and schools originally passed resolutions opposing Paul LePage’s revenue sharing elimination earlier in the session; while the passed budget offset some of the damage and monies lost, millions of dollars are predicted to be further cut from their budgets. The legislative resolution was offered by AFA Co-Chairs Senator Dawn Hill (D-York) and Representative Peggy Rotundo (D-Lewiston).

Among those speaking in support of the Democratic proposal were mayors, town managers, city employees, school board members and more. Dozens of people came from around the state to speak in the extremely long session; here are links to videos taken of some of the testimonies:

Presque Isle
Oakland (Note: Maine Municipal Association President)
Brewer, second Brewer clip

Other towns that submitted testimony include Auburn, Lewiston, Bangor, Milo, Lincoln, Marshfield, Charlotte, Alfred, Fryeburg, Bridgton, South Berwick, Woolwich, St Agathe, Palmyra, Portland and South Bristol. Members from the Maine State Employees Union, Maine Municipal Association and Aroostook Municipal Association spoke as well.

A work session on the measure scheduled for yesterday abruptly ended when all of the Republican Appropriations and Financial Affairs committee members left the State House last night before the committee chairs had declared the session concluded. Democrats decided to vote the measure forward to the Legislature, 7-0:

    Monday evening was one of those rare occasions when the committee “broke up,” to paraphrase State House parlance. Details are a bit fuzzy, but the dispute centers on L.R. 2721 a proposal that would forestall a $40 million cut in municipal revenue sharing by, at least as originally proposed, reducing or eliminating an identical amount in tax breaks But on Monday, Democrats on the committee voted out a bill that would prevent the revenue sharing cut by tapping the state’s rainy day fund and income tax relief fund.

    Both funding mechanisms are likely non-starters for Republicans, which may be why none were there for the vote. Actually, it’s not clear why the Republicans weren’t there.

    According to Democratic press statements and tweets, Republicans “refused” vote on the bill, or they “took a walk.” Democrats also sent out statements that said they “kept their promise” to Maine’s municipalities, while noting that Republicans were absent.

    Meanwhile, according to Republican press statements, the Democrats on the panel told their Republican colleagues that they weren’t voting until Tuesday, but waited until they left and went ahead and did it anyway. The headline in the Maine House GOP release began with “disgrace;” the GOP Senate release said it was a “stunning maneuver.” Republicans also sent out photos and a video of the Democrats voting on the proposal.

NOTE: This is a story still in progress, as both parties continue to level accusations at each other and no doubt, there will be mention of this event in tonight’s State of the State address by Governor LePage. The latest statement by Democratic leaders:

Justin Alfond, Mark Eves

    “Democratic committee members proudly took their vote yesterday; a vote that keeps the state’s 40 year promise and will help prevent massive property tax spikes and cuts to essential services,” said Alfond. “In this business, you have to stand up and be counted. And the Republicans didn’t do that. Worse, they lied. We expect to have policy disagreements but not this: they have disparaged the integrity of many hard working lawmakers and we cannot sit quietly as they attempt to do so. Mainers are counting on us to work together and do better.”

There is also now word that right-to-work legislation is likely to be among the topics LePage will touch upon in tonight’s address. This has been a rumor for a few weeks now, but yesterday there was some discussion at a pair of leadership press conferences of a potential idea being bandied around of swapping right-to-work legislation for Medicaid expansion.
As a reminder: Governor LePage tried to cut a deal with DHHS Secretary Kathleen Sebellius regarding expansion earlier and was turned down flat.

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