October 10, 2013

LePage’s emergency declaration questioned

It lets him suspend rules during the government shutdown, but how it helps potentially laid-off workers is unclear.

By Steve Mistler smistler@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

AUGUSTA — Gov. Paul LePage declared a civil emergency Wednesday because of the federal government shutdown, but the implications were unclear and his declaration drew swift criticism.

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Gov. Paul LePage has declared a civil emergency Wednesday because of the federal government shutdown.

AP File Photo

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Number of positions identified, as of Tuesday, Oct. 8, 2013, with some level of federal funding:

Agriculture, Conservation & Forestry - 151
Maine Arts Commission - 4
Attorney General - 16
Corrections - 8
Defense, Veterans and Emergency Management - 141
Economic & Community Development - 5
Education - 78
Environmental Protection - 110
Executive Department - 5
Maine Historic Preservation Commission - 5
Maine Human Rights Commission - 7
Health and Human Services - 766
Inland Fisheries & Wildlife - 112
Judicial - 45
Labor - 522
Maine State Library - 13
Marine Resources - 46
Public Safety - 22
Secretary of State - 2
Transportation - 682

Total: 2,740

*This does not include any positions impacted exclusively by cost allocation.

The governor’s office said the declaration is intended to enable the administration to minimize the financial impact on the state and its federally funded employees. But officials did not specifically identify how LePage intends to use an executive power that allows him to suspend state rules or regulations that “prevent, hinder and delay effective management of the emergency,” according to state law.

Democratic leaders were suspicious of the declaration, calling on LePage to outline his plans for his new authority. The union representing state employees, nearly 3,000 of whom face temporary layoffs because of the shutdown, called it an overreach of power.

“The failure of leadership in Washington, D.C., has resulted in a federal shutdown, preventing the flow of federal money to Maine,” LePage said in the news release announcing the declaration. “Unfortunately, this means that a large number of our federally funded state employees may have to be laid off.”

Democrats questioned why the Republican governor would give himself additional power, and how he intends to use it.

Attorney General Janet Mills, a Democrat, described the civil emergency as confusing and “a diversionary tactic.”

“I don’t know what the hell he’s talking about,” she told the Portland Press Herald. “He can put anything he wants down on paper. I’m not sure what powers he’s creating or trying to exercise.”

A civil emergency doesn’t give LePage any additional spending authority, which is tightly governed by the Maine Constitution. It does allow him to suspend some rules and regulations, but the administration would not say which ones it has in mind.

Carlisle McLean, LePage’s chief legal counsel, said the declaration wasn’t made in anticipation of “anything that the public isn’t already aware of,” a reference to the shutdown’s accumulating effects on state employees and agencies.

McLean said the administration initially believed that the shutdown would be over quickly, but since Oct. 1 it “has snowballed beyond what any of us expected.”

Maine and other states are beginning to feel the impact of the federal shutdown because their operations and staffing are intertwined with federal money.

Maine has 2,739 state workers whose positions are fully or partially funded by the federal government. On Monday, the administration announced 52 temporary layoffs at the Disability Determination Office in Winthrop, in addition to furloughs of four employees in the Department of Health and Human Services and three in the Department of Labor.

Last week, 406 technicians in the Maine Army and Air National Guard were furloughed, although most were later recalled.

In a letter to employees, LePage referred to three meetings with the union, but it wasn’t clear if the administration expected the unions to help alleviate the shutdown’s effects.

“Our administration met three times with the union since Friday to express our concerns, and we have been seeking solutions to minimize the impact on our state employees,” LePage’s letter said.

MaryAnne Turowski, legislative liaison for the Maine State Employees Association, said she attended the meetings with LePage but no proposals were made by the governor.

She said, “We’re in the dark as to what he’s talking about. We certainly think this is an overreach.”

The union released a more critical statement Wednesday night.

“Gov. LePage is the only governor in the United States to take the drastic step of proclaiming a civil emergency in response to the federal shutdown that his Tea Party colleagues at the national level created,” Ginette Rivard, also with the union, said in the statement.

(Continued on page 2)

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Today's poll: Civil emergency

Do you believe Gov. LePage is justified in declaring a civil emergency during the federal government shutdown?



View Results