Wednesday, May 22, 2013
Steve Mistler covers politics and government for the Portland Press Herald. He spends a lot of time in the hallways of the State House.
Legislative Republicans are establishing a trend: They'll sustain Gov. Paul LePage's vetoes, even if it means defeating measures they've previously supported, in some cases unanimously.
The latest example happened Wednesday when Republicans in the House backed LePage's rejection of L.D. 387, a bill that would study how the Department of Health and Human Services and other MaineCare providers addressing the housing needs of developmentally disabled residents, who receive state subsidies through MaineCare.
The Health Human Services Committee passed the measure unanimously. So did 55 Republicans in the House, who changed their minds after LePage vetoed the measure last week.
LePage, in his veto message, noted that the bill would cost the department $200,000. The Human Services Committee should be familiar with that estimate; Ricker Hamilton, of DHHS' Office of Disability and Aging Services, provided the same projection during his testimony.
Veto watch: Republican lawmakers will be on the hot seat once again this week when the Democratic-led Legislature attempts to override Gov. Paul LePage's sixth veto of the session.
The governor on Friday vetoed L.D. 319, an e-fairness bill that directs Maine Revenue Services to determine if the state conforms with an agreement among other states seeking to tax online commerce.
The governor supports e-fairness legislation. In May he issued a press statement backing the e-fairness bill currently making its way through the U.S. Senate. However, in his veto message of L.D. 319, a bill by Democratic House leader Rep. Seth Berry, of Bowdoinham, LePage wrote that state lawmakers should get behind the federal legislation.
L.D. 319 had just one roll call vote. It passed 137-0 in the House. Other votes went under the hammer, meaning that both chambers approved unanimously.
Addendum: A couple of footnotes to Friday's story on the tax reform bill that will have a public hearing in the Taxation Committee.
One criticism of the plan that's not included in Press Herald breakdown is that many are questioning whether it's possible to determine the effects of exporting the tax burden from residents to non-residents. Sen. Dick Woodbury, the plan's architect, believes the proposal does this, but he'll be challenged to prove it.
Meg Gray Wiehe, state tax policy director for the Washington D.C.-based Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, is skeptical.
"It’s a little nonsensical that you could do this kind of massive reform in a way that magically every resident in Maine gets a tax cut and non-residents are paying more," she said. "I don’t see how you pull that piece off."
Medicaid melee: With the thumbs-up from their progressive allies, Democratic legislative leaders reiterated Monday their pitch to tie paying back Maine's hospitals with the expansion of low-income health insurance.
Democratic leaders issued a press statement calling on LePage "to stop making excuses for denying health care to thousands of Maine people."
"Governor LePage continues to play politics with health care for 70,000 Maine people," said House Speaker Mark Eves, D-North Berwick.
Said Senate President Justin Alfond, D-Portland: "We’ve heard one excuse after another from this governor. If he is serious about lowering our medical costs and addressing our hospital debt in our state, he should accept federal health care dollars now. It is the morally and fiscally right thing to do."
Maine House Speaker Rep. Mark Eves, D-North Berwick, reiterated his skepticism of Gov. Paul LePage's proposed commission to review the state's unemployment compensation system.
The governor announced that he planned to launch the bipartisan commission last week. The move came as LePage and his administration face allegations that the governor pressured unemployment appeals hearing officers during a March 21 lunch meeting at the Blaine House.
The controversy triggered a coalition of unemployment attorneys to call for a federal probe into the allegations.
Democrats have questioned the timing of LePage's commission, which Eves repeated on Wednesday.