March 12, 2012

State House Notebook: MaineCare debate will not go away

By Susan M. Cover scover@mainetoday.com
State House Bureau

(Continued from page 1)

TUNE IN TODAY

MaineToday Media State House Writer Susan Cover will be on NewsRadio 560 WGAN at 8:08 a.m. today to talk about what's going on at the State House.

Administration officials, meanwhile, say they are moving forward with their own health care management efforts, including a joint effort with hospitals, and are building those savings into the budgets. Those savings won't solve the short-term funding crisis in MaineCare, they say.

Republicans on the Appropriations Committee, meanwhile, are welcoming ideas for reducing costs, including care management.

"We'll certainly take a look at that," said Sen. Richard Rosen, R-Bucksport, who co-chairs the committee.

GAY MARRIAGE VOTE LOOMS

When it comes to gay marriage, support among voters appears to change based on how the question is worded, recent polling results show.

Public Policy Polling surveyed 1,256 Maine voters March 2-4 using automated telephone interviews. They found that 47 percent of those surveyed would vote "yes" on the question as it will appear on the November ballot:

"Do you favor a law allowing marriage licenses for same-sex couples that protects religious freedom by ensuring no religion or clergy be required to perform such a marriage in violation of their religious beliefs?"

That leaves 32 percent voting "no" and 21 percent "not sure."

When the question is asked more simply: "In general, do you think same-sex marriage should be legal or illegal?" -- 54 percent said "legal" and 41 percent said "illegal" -- leaving 5 percent unsure.

Opponents of same-sex marriage have argued in recent weeks that Mainers haven't changed their minds, and the polling results on the first question bear that out -- at least among the percentage expressing support.

It was 47 percent in 2009, and remains that today.

But the 21 percent who said they were "not sure" will surely hearten supporters, who will work until November to move them into the yes column.

A LEGISLATIVE SWING?

The same poll asked voters if the election were held today, would they "generally vote for Democratic candidates or Republicans?"

Fifty-one percent said Democrats, 37 percent chose Republicans and 13 percent were not sure. It is worth noting that of those surveyed, 43 percent self-identified as Democrats, 34 percent said they were Republicans and 23 percent chose independent/other.

While that might give Democrats hope of taking back the House and Senate, the poll can't capture an important factor in Maine's 186 legislative races -- that they are essentially hyper-local battles where people often look beyond party, especially if their neighbor is running for office.

BAD FAITH?

It's no secret that negotiations between the Maine State Employees Association and the LePage administration have been contentious.

Dueling news releases following a somewhat routine finding by the Maine Labor Relations Board bear that out.

Last week, the board's executive director ruled that there is enough evidence of "bad faith" bargaining tactics to call for a hearing. The union says the administration walked out of negotiations at a critical time, refused to bargain seriously until the contract was nearly up, and demanded "extreme concessions."

And while that one issue will move forward, MLRB Executive Director Marc Ayotte rejected other accusations by the union, including charges of discrimination.

That led the union to put out a news release with the headline "LePage administration to stand trial for negotiating in bad faith." There will be a hearing before the board.

Later that day, the administration put out a news release that says the board "rejects claims" by the MSEA.

At the end, it does acknowledge that the administration "expected from the beginning" that it would have to defend itself at a hearing.

"This case appears to be an expression of MSEA's frustration that the voters of Maine elected a governor who has given priority to restoring fiscal health to the state of Maine, a priority it appears MSEA may not share," said Julie Armstrong, a state attorney.

MaineToday Media State House Writers Susan Cover and John Richardson contributed to this column.

 

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