AUGUSTA – On Monday, Gov. LePage vetoed a measure that would save 1,400 Maine jobs, create 3,100 new jobs and provide health coverage to tens of thousands of Mainers. Lawmakers should override the governor’s job-killing veto of L.D. 1066, “An Act to Increase Access to Health Coverage and Qualify Maine for Federal Funding.” Barring a change of heart from key Republican legislators, though, it won’t happen.
Imagine the governor and his allies saying “no” to 4,500 jobs. By refusing more than $350 million in federal funds annually to provide health insurance to almost 70,000 Mainers, that’s exactly what they will do.
That would be more than all the jobs at the paper mills in Bucksport, Jay and Rumford put together. It’s about the same number of jobs Maine lost when the Brunswick Naval Air Station closed. It’s more than all of the jobs at Maine’s Home Depot and Lowe’s stores combined.
If accepting federal dollars to pay hospitals and health care providers and support Maine jobs sounds familiar, it should. Gov. LePage made the same case to justify his hospital debt payment plan.
In this case, however, the federal government would pick up 100 percent of the tab for the first three years and 90 percent after that. And low-income Mainers — some of whom work at places like Home Depot and Lowe’s — would get health insurance.
If we don’t accept these federal funds, Maine taxpayers will pay for health benefits in other states and get none of the benefits. We lose nothing by saying “yes” to these federal funds, and if the program doesn’t deliver the promised benefits, we can opt out anytime.
What’s more, the Wall Street Journal and the Heritage Foundation affirm that this deal would be good for Maine. It would save large employers from paying costly penalties and save the state more than $690 million over the next decade.
Maine needs these jobs. Four years since the end of the Great Recession, Maine has only recovered one quarter of the 29,500 jobs lost. Maine’s job growth since the official end of the recession in June 2009 ranks 44th out of 50 states and dead last in New England.
Maine Center for Economic Policy analysis found that every area of the state will benefit. On average, more than 200 jobs will be created or saved in rural Aroostook, Hancock, Oxford and Washington counties. Places like Cumberland and Penobscot counties will see more than 800 and 500 jobs, respectively.
Maine’s New England neighbors have accepted ACA funds to cover low-income residents who don’t have health insurance. Those dollars will also accelerate their economic recovery, as they will in Arizona, Ohio and Michigan — states led by Republican governors who put jobs and the well-being of the people they represent ahead of ideology.
Republican legislators need to stand up to the governor and vote to accept federal health care funds. Republican state Sens. Patrick Flood of Winthrop, Roger Katz of Augusta and Tom Saviello of Wilton; and Republican state Reps. Jarrod Crockett of Bethel, Don Marean of Hollis, Carol McElwee of Caribou, Tom Tyler of Windham, Corey Wilson of Augusta and Ellen Winchenbach of Waldoboro have already done so.
We can only hope that more of their Republican colleagues will join them and support a veto override in the coming days.
In his State of the State address in February, Gov. LePage said, “Folks, if you want to create a job, I want to be there to help you.”
Here’s a chance to save 1,400 Maine jobs, create 3,100 new jobs and invest more than $350 million annually in Maine’s economy. The governor may be willing to reject 4,500 jobs and put ideology ahead of Maine people, but lawmakers don’t need to make the same mistake.
The worst recession since the Great Depression hit Maine people hard. There are few instances where legislative action can have such a clear and direct impact on jobs. This is one of them.
All that’s needed are a few Republican legislators willing to join their colleagues in voting to override Gov. LePage’s veto of L.D. 1066, “An Act to Increase Access to Health Coverage and Qualify Maine for Federal Funding.”
We urge our legislators to say “yes” to 4,500 jobs.
Garrett Martin is executive director of the Maine Center for Economic Policy.