Friday, March 7, 2014
For the most part, the LePage administration and the Democratic majority in the Legislature have guarded their policy agendas like nuclear launch codes.
The Dec. 5 cloture date for agencies to submit legislative requests has given some hints -- some stronger than others -- about the administration’s plans. However, details in that list of 145 bill requests have been fairly scarce.
The governor’s budget two-year budget proposal, due Friday, will provide a better look at the administration’s policy agenda.
Meanwhile, Democrats are expected to announce their priorities in a press conference Wednesday morning. Other than forming a committee to address the so-called workforce skills gap, the party has said very little about its plans this session.
We’ll see if the media event -- which are typically heavy on rhetoric and light on substance -- will provide some better clues about what the Democrats hope to accomplish this session.
— Those keeping a close eye on the bills coming out of the Revisor’s Office may have thought they had the jump on the Democrats’ first official policy initiative when LD 1 was made public on Tuesday.
The bill, sponsored by Sen. John Patrick, D-Rumford, makes changes to the state’s workers compensation act. Workers compensation bills are often a flash point between the two parties, Patrick is no stranger to stirring the pot and in past sessions LD 1 has been a tone-setter for the session -- the vehicle for the majority party’s policy priority. In other words, LD 1 is usually a big deal.
Democrats say this LD 1 isn’t.
According to a spokeswoman for Senate President Justin Alfond, Patrick’s bill is a housekeeping bill that will help bring into compliance the workers compensation reforms passed by last session’s Republican majority.
— Department of Health and Human Services Commissioner Mary Mayhew is scheduled to appear before the Legislature’s budget writing committee on Wednesday to brief lawmakers on the $13.4 million cuts to her agency.
The cuts are part of the governor’s $35.5 million across-the-board state spending reductions that have been ordered to help balance the state’s current two-year budget.
Mayhew will likely receive a lot of questions about the impact of the cuts, which hit an array of social services programs for the elderly, the mentally ill, substance abusers and the poor.
It will be interesting to see how hard Democratic lawmakers push Mayhew. So far there seems to be a reluctance among Democrats to challenge too many of the measures included in the governor’s curtailment order, in part because state law limits his discretionary cutting power.
The real battles in the budget committee won’t likely occur until it begins digging into the governor’s two-year budget proposal.
So far, rumblings from the administration have been that the budget contain has plenty of bad news for everybody, particularly DHHS.
— Tuesday’s news that the federal government had approved two out of four cuts to the state’s Medicaid program was accompanied by the usual spin. The LePage administration championed the approved reductions and the last Legislature’s “courage” to pass the cuts without first gaining federal approval.
Democrats, meanwhile, ripped the governor and Republicans for passing illegal Medicaid cuts with a “false savings” that left a budget hole for this Legislature to plug.
The bottom line: The feds’ announcement was a split decision that eliminates health care coverage for approximately 20,000 low-income Mainers and saved the state about $4.5 million of the $23 million lawmakers booked in savings last year.
Additionally, majority of Democrats agreed to one of the four Medicaid reductions in a bipartisan budget bill passed last session.Tweet
Steve Mistler covers politics and government for the Portland Press Herald. He spends a lot of time in the hallways of the State House.