AUGUSTA — Gov. Paul LePage quietly signed a bill to pay back Maine’s debt to 39 state hospitals on Friday, fulfilling a promise he campaigned on in 2010.
L.D. 1555 calls for borrowing to pay the state’s $183.5 million share of debt to hospitals and repaying it with revenue from a soon-to-be negotiated wholesale liquor contract.
Paying off Maine’s share of the debt would unlock about $300 million in federal funds, making the package worth nearly a half-billion dollars for the hospitals.
The bill passed unanimously in both houses of the Legislature on Thursday, and LePage’s office announced the bill’s signing in a statement on Friday afternoon. In it, he called paying hospitals “the right thing to do” while renewing his criticism of Democrats, who he says have delayed the hospital payment.
However, Democrats have countered that argument by saying LePage has been stalling, as he vetoed a plan that would have paid the hospitals while expanding Medicaid, the state-federal health care program for the poor.
LePage, in his statement Friday, also said he would make good on his previous promise to issue $105 million in voter-approved bonds dating back to 2009. Maine law gives governors five years to release bonds.
Within that package of outstanding bonds is money for improvements to transportation infrastructure, energy-efficiency and construction programs at higher education institutions and conservation and water upgrades.
Interest rates could be a factor in the timing of those bonds’ release. State Treasurer Neria Douglass said Wednesday that she’s “interested in proceeding as soon as possible” because of rising interest rates.