March 2, 2013

LePage: Pay hospitals or all bills get vetoed

Democrats denounce the governor's threat to stop any legislation other than his plan to resolve Maine's debt to medical centers through a new state liquor operation.

By Steve Mistler smistler@pressherald.com
State House Bureau

AUGUSTA — Gov. Paul LePage told a Bangor radio station Friday that he will veto every bill that comes to his desk unless the Democratic-controlled Legislature passes his plan to pay off the state's debt to Maine hospitals.

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Assistant Majority Floor Leader Rep. Jeff McCabe, D-Skowhegan, left, Majority Leader Sen. Seth Goodall, D-Richmond, and Assistant Majority Leader Sen. Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, answer questions during a news conference on Friday at the State House in Augusta.

Staff photo by Joe Phelan

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Minority Floor Leader Rep. Michael D. Thibodeau, R-WInterport, left, and Minority Leader Rep. Kenneth Fredette, R-Newport, answer questions during a news conference on Friday at the State House in Augusta.

Staff photo by Joe Phelan

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Audio of LePage on WVOM's 'George Hale Ric Tyler Show'

Audio of Gov. LePage's comments on WVOM's 'George Hale Ric Tyler Show'

Democrats quickly denounced his remarks, saying the governor is promoting "do-nothing politics" by threatening to go on a "veto spree."

Senate Majority Leader Seth Goodall, D-Richmond, likened the governor's actions to those of a schoolyard bully.

The governor's veto threat – followed by his hint of a shutdown of state government – touched off a full day of blame-heavy rhetoric as legislative leaders from both parties held dueling news conferences, negotiating through the media.

By the end of Friday, the two sides were no closer to a resolution over competing bills to negotiate a new long-term liquor contract.

Speaking on the George Hale and Ric Tyler Show on WVOM, LePage told Tyler that he planned to inform Senate President Justin Alfond, D-Portland, of the veto ultimatum during a meeting scheduled for Friday evening.

"I'm going to lay out a little plan that I have," LePage said. "Every single bill – until the hospital payment is passed – is going to be vetoed."

The governor said it a second time on the radio show and again during a brief television interview.

He told WCSH-TV in Portland that "the next bill I sign as governor is going to be the hospital bill." He said that if lawmakers don't deliver the bill quickly, they should "close the session and go home, spend time with the kids, and we'll see you next January."

Adrienne Bennett, the governor's spokeswoman, later confirmed that LePage's comments had been planned and discussed with his staff.

Democratic leaders denounced LePage's threat to shut down state government if lawmakers don't give him his way.

"This is not governing," Goodall said. "This is not leadership. It is the type of political gamesmanship that doesn't belong here in Maine. I suspect the people of Maine want leaders, not schoolyard bullies."

The conflict centers on LePage's plan to use borrowing and revenue from the state's wholesale liquor operation to pay more than $484 million in unpaid Medicaid reimbursements to Maine's 39 hospitals.

About $184 million of that total is owed by the state, which must pay the debt to release federal matching funds.

LePage's liquor bill calls for a contractor to monitor inventory, manage accounts and advertising, and coordinate with suppliers.

After its current 10-year contract expires in 2014, the state would control the proceeds from liquor sales, with "a private sector person to provide administration" and marketing, distribution and warehousing.

The state would pay the hospitals by issuing bonds for as much as $187 million, to be repaid from liquor sales.

LePage, and later Republican lawmakers, said Friday that the Democratic majority has been slow to schedule the bill for a public hearing. The bill is scheduled for a hearing March 11, along with the competing bill sponsored by Goodall.

Goodall has said his bill would not earmark liquor contract revenue for a particular use because that discussion should be separate from getting the best terms possible.

Republicans said the governor's bill should have had a hearing by now because it was introduced Feb. 5, while Goodall's was introduced Feb. 21 and immediately referred to committee.

They also indicated that Democrats had "fast-tracked" a bill that would allow earlier liquor sales on St. Patrick's Day.

(Continued on page 2)

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Additional Photos

click image to enlarge

Majority Leader Sen. Seth Goodall, D-Richmond, and Assistant Majority Leader Sen. Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, answer questions during a news conference on Friday at the State House in Augusta.

Staff photo by Joe Phelan

click image to enlarge

Majority Leader Sen. Seth Goodall, D-Richmond, answers questions during a news conference on Friday at the State House in Augusta.

Staff photo by Joe Phelan

click image to enlarge

Gerald T. Reid, director of the Bureau of Alcoholic Beverages and Lottery Operations, answers questions during a news conference on Friday at the State House in Augusta.

Staff photo by Joe Phelan



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