Wednesday, March 12, 2014
Update: This post has been corrected to delete a reference to Justice Mills and the release of the names of the Johns in the Zumba case - S.M.
Northern exposure: The New York Times visited the State House recently to document the icy relationship between Gov. Paul LePage and the Democratic-led Legislature. The piece ran Tuesday and is basically an overview of all the daily events that have been reported since Democrats came into power – the Democratic tracker that LePage says led him to call off his scheduled meeting with Democratic leaders, the dinner invitation by Senate President Justin Alfond, D-Portland, the governor's recent blow-up during a meeting with independent lawmakers, etc.
The story does raise the prospect that the standoff – and the governor's controversial budget proposal – could lead to a government shutdown if lawmakers are unable to forge a compromise on the state's next two-year spending plan.
The potential for a shutdown also appeared to be on the minds of the Fitch ratings agency when it downgraded the state's bond rating on Tuesday. The agency cited numerous factors for the downgrade in its analysis, but it mentioned – twice – a "contentious" atmosphere among the decision makers in Augusta, specifically the chasm between the Democrats and the governor over his budget.
Politically, a shutdown would appear to be a worst-case scenario for Democrats, particularly as it relates to the 2014 governor's race. Gridlock, or a government shutdown, would seemingly strengthen the presumed candidacy of Eliot Cutler, an independent. But the prospect of a shutdown would also seem to bolster the bargaining position of the Republican legislative minority, whose support will be needed to garner the two-thirds budget approval that circumvents LePage's veto power.
Mills connection: Superior Court Justice Nancy Mills is having a tough go of it with the Zumba prostitution case. Mills is taking fire for holding a secret jury selection.
Why bring it up here?
Mills may be best known for her judicial career, but she's also married to Peter Mills, the former Republican lawmaker and current director of the Maine Turnpike Authority. She was appointed by Gov. John McKernan in 1993 and reappointed by Gov. John Baldacci.
Always a political connection.
Medicaid problems: Ratings agencies have been consistent in their concerns about Maine's ongoing shortfalls in its Medicaid program. It's not the only state facing that problem.
Stateline on Wednesday published a story about states' budget perils. Chief among states' concerns: Medicaid.
". . . Medicaid spending continues to be the largest component of total state spending at nearly 24 percent, easily surpassing K-12 education, which takes up less than 20 percent.
". . .Ten states are already reporting spending overruns for Medicaid and other health care programs for the current fiscal year, compared with six at this time last year, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Maine, for example, is seeing costs continue to go up even as Medicaid caseloads go down. But nowhere is the deficit higher than in Texas, which faces a staggering $4.3 billion hole in its Medicaid budget. The state has some $8 billion in its rainy day fund, but lawmakers are reluctant to tap that fund to make up the entire difference."
Steve Mistler covers politics and government for the Portland Press Herald. He spends a lot of time in the hallways of the State House.