May 20, 2013

Gov. LePage silenced in visit to panel

His surprise request to speak is rebuffed in order to keep ‘politics’ out of talks to deal with his MaineCare cutoff warning.

By Steve Mistler smistler@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

(Continued from page 1)

After being denied a chance to speak, Gov. Paul LePage said: “It’s unfortunate the people of the state of Maine are being played for patsies.”

Steve Mistler/State House Bureau

Mayhew told the committee that the shortfall was identified in a recent change package to the governor’s proposed two-year budget. The package, worth $35 million, would keep the department whole until the next budget is adopted.

Democrats on the committee questioned why the May 28 deadline wasn’t mentioned until the administration publicized a pair of letters Friday evening. Rep. Peggy Rotundo, D-Lewiston, told Mayhew that the communication style was “disturbing.”

“It’s not acceptable to find out about this on a Friday at 5 p.m. in a letter that didn’t even come to us (the committee),” Rotundo said.

Mayhew said she was perplexed at the lawmakers' surprise, given that funding shortfalls were commonplace within the MaineCare program. Democratic lawmakers weren’t satisfied with that explanation.

Rotundo, an 11-year veteran of the budget committee and House chairwoman of the panel, said the letter sent Friday was “highly irregular” given that the department had repeatedly briefed the committee on financial matters during the budget process.

Mayhew also expressed frustration that Rotundo believed the funding shortfall was a surprise, adding that the department had provided the panel with “reams” of data and analysis.

Republican lawmakers on the panel tried to defuse tension, which some worried would disrupt already delicate negotiations over the state’s two-year budget. The panel has voted out more than half of the spending lines in the budget, but has yet to agree on more contentious items.

“Our job is to stay focused, collaborative, calm and work something out because other people and other factors that surround us will be trying to divide us, to torment us and make us get political and crazy,” Sen. Patrick Flood, R-Winthrop, told the committee. “I don’t think we lend ourselves to doing that here.”

The budget-writing committee is known for working in a bipartisan fashion to solve budgets and other funding crises. Hill said after the meeting that she was trying to preserve that work atmosphere when she didn’t allow LePage to address the committee.

“Given the tenor of the meeting this afternoon, I didn’t feel like it was appropriate for him to be here and speak to us,” Hill said. “Secondly, he was more than adequately represented by Commissioner Mayhew ... and also Commissioner Millett. We wanted to get back to work. It was time to move on.”

LePage didn’t agree. When Hill told him that she didn’t want to inject politics into the meeting, he said, “Are you saying that the governor of the state of Maine is not welcome to address the Appropriations Committee?”

“Governor, quite frankly I’m not saying that, but we hadn’t expected you, and what we had to accomplish today was accomplished,” said Hill, adding that LePage was welcome to speak with anyone on the committee at another time. “It’s best to end it on a high note, and I think that’s where we were.”

“Outside this committee won’t happen unless I have a way to speak,” LePage responded. “I want to get on the record, and this committee is not allowing it.”

It’s unusual for a sitting governor to address a legislative committee, but not unprecedented. LePage has tried it previously. Last year, when Republicans controlled the Legislature, he unexpectedly addressed the budget-writing committee and demanded that it pass a supplemental budget.

Sen. Roger Katz, R-Augusta, declined to discuss LePage’s appearance Sunday. However, he said it was clear that lawmakers had a solution to the shortfall.

Steve Mistler can be contacted at 620-7016 or at smistler@pressherald.com


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