Politics

February 10

State House Notebook: Filling the gaps in the Republican attack on Michaud’s farm bill vote

Also: Gov. Paul LePage and Sen. Troy Jackson tangle again.

By Steve Mistler smistler@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

(Continued from page 1)

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U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud

2013 File Photo / The Associated Press / Clarke Canfield

Related headlines

Those findings are a less sensational criticism of funding NORA, however.

NEW JACKSON-LEPAGE SKIRMISH

Senate Majority Leader Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, and the governor have a history. It’s not love. It’s war.

Many will recall that Jackson was the subject of the governor’s now infamous broadside last summer, during which he accused the Democratic senator of giving “it to the people without providing Vaseline” and accusing him of having a “black heart.”

Apparently the two had a brief exchange during an event held by the Maine State Chamber of Commerce last Thursday evening. According to people who attended, which included several Democratic lawmakers, LePage noticed that Jackson was chuckling when the governor was making his case against expanding Medicaid. The governor noticed and interrupted his speech to tell Jackson that he would know the facts about Medicaid if he wasn’t so busy campaigning for the 2nd Congressional District seat (which he is).

“Maybe it’s because I have a black heart,” Jackson responded.

LePage declined to say Jackson had a black heart (this time), but he did tell the Democrat that he couldn’t count.

He then continued with his speech.

THREAT TO WITHHOLD STATE BONDS

It may have been lost in the State House drama last week, but two days after LePage said during his State of the State address that he planned to invest $2 billion in the state’s transportation infrastructure, the governor threatened to withhold state bonds that would be used to pay for it.

A spokeswoman for LePage told the Portland Press Herald that the governor wouldn’t go to market if the Legislature approved a bill designed to prevent a $40 million cut in aid to cities and towns. LePage’s objection centers on a 2013 report by Moody’s Investors Service that noted that Maine needed to rebuild its rainy day fund for emergency expenditures.

The fund was drawn down by $27 million in 2011 when the Republican-led Legislature passed a $400 million tax cut and attempted to balance its budget. Now Democrats in the Legislature are pushing a bill that would tap the fund for $21 million in order to pay for municipal aid.

During the Chamber of Commerce dinner, LePage told attendees that he wouldn’t jeopardize the state’s credit rating if that bill passed, so he was going to withhold the bonds.

Although the governor’s threat may be grounded in fiscal policy, it’s also a shrewd political move designed to encourage Republican lawmakers to vote against the revenue sharing bill. Many House Republicans loudly objected to the funding mechanism in the municipal aid bill, but 30 of the 51 who voted last week supported it.

The defections show that Republican lawmakers are acutely aware of the political jeopardy of voting against funding for towns in their district, a vote that could result in either higher property taxes or decreased services.

By threatening to withhold bonding for transportation projects, LePage is taking the chance that some Republicans will come back to his side. That’s because the construction and transportation lobby can be very convincing, particularly if paving or bridge projects are delayed another summer – and in an election year.

Democrats are applying pressure, too.

“Here we go again. Governor LePage is threatening to hold economic investment hostage for no good reason,” said Rep. Jeff McCabe, D-Skowhegan, the assistant House majority leader. “He is only making it harder for Republicans to do right by their communities. His message made business leaders very uneasy at the Maine State Chamber leadership summit dinner and at the roundtable discussions.”

This story has been corrected to note that McCabe is the assistant majority leader.

The Portland Press Herald’s Washington bureau chief, Kevin Miller, and Kennebec Journal Staff Writer Michael Shepherd contributed to this report.

Steve Mistler can be contacted at 791-6345 or at:

smistler@pressherald.com

Twitter: @stevemistler

 

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