Politics

September 16, 2012

Truth Test: Courtney correct about bipartisanship

By Michael Shepherd mshepherd@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

"As Maine's Senate majority leader, we passed every reform with bipartisan cooperation: regulatory, welfare, health insurance, pension reform."

-- TV ad for state Sen. Jon Courtney, who is challenging U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree

It's clear that state Sen. Jon Courtney, the Springvale Republican looking to knock off U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-1st District, is running his race on the record of the 125th Legislature.

The Senate majority leader released his first campaign ad Tuesday, saying he can help bring the bipartisan nature of the Republicans' work in Augusta to a deadlocked Washington, D.C. As an example, he gives a number of "bipartisan" reforms as an example.

He's almost exactly right, but there's an outlier -- a big, contentious one including a reduction in the MaineCare rolls.

To pin down what bills these "reforms" were comprised of, we used two types of sources: Maine Republican Party "policy briefs" and statements from state officials. He has to meet a high standard: A Democrat must have voted with Republicans on each of the bills comprising the reforms. We're not evaluating the effect of these reforms.

S. Donald Sussman, a financier, frequent Democratic donor and Pingree's husband, is the majority share owner of MaineToday Media, which publishes the Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram, Kennebec Journal, Morning Sentinel and other media outlets in Maine.

REGULATORY REFORM

For this item, we're checking votes on nine bills referenced in a recent "policy brief" from the Maine Republican Party. Seven of those bills passed in concurrence in the Legislature, meaning lawmakers had little opposition.

One other bill went to a roll call vote, but was nearly unanimous in both chambers. L.D. 1 was a large package of smaller reform items, including weakening the Board of Environmental Protection and allowing legislative committees to review and change agency rules. It passed the House 147-3 and the Senate 34-0.

The last bill in this package is much closer. L.D. 281, which reduced the statute of limitations for Department of Environmental Protection violations, passed the Senate 23-10, with three Democrats joining the Republican majority. The House vote to accept an amended minority report on this issue was far closer, at 74-69. That was just about a party-line vote, but two Democrats went with Republicans on it.

We rate this statement true.

WELFARE

This is the only item in which Courtney errs. Perhaps the most contentious piece of welfare reform, as defined by another Maine Republican brief, wasn't bipartisan. On the other four bills referenced, he's right.

All Democrats in Courtney's chamber went against a supplemental budget for the Department of Health and Human Services containing Republican-advocated changes to MaineCare, most notably eliminating coverage for 19- and 20-year-olds and certain childless adults. It was a 19-14 vote on party lines, as Sen. Cynthia Dill, D-Cape Elizabeth, was absent. In the House, Republicans got two Democratic votes.

An earlier, less controversial DHHS supplemental budget, which notably moved Maine- Care eligibility from 200 percent of poverty to 133 percent, passed by a two-thirds majority of legislators in both chambers.

Welfare changes, including a five-year cap on TANF benefits, were also passed under a 2011 biennial budget that passed 123-19 in the House and 29-5 in the Senate, with most Democrats voting for it.

Two other bills, including one that added welfare fraud investigators to DHHS and another that directed DHHS to ask the federal government to allow a law mandating food stamp beneficiaries show photo ID at stores, either passed without issue or without a roll call vote.

We rate this statement mostly true.

HEALTH INSURANCE

This reform came at once, in L.D. 1333, one of the more controversial bills passed in the 125th Legislature. It was the Republican-led market-based health insurance package, which, among other things, opened Maine's health market to interstate competition.

It passed the House 78-68, with two Democrats voting with Republicans. In the Senate, it went 24-10, with three Democrats and a Democrat-leaning independent breaking with their ranks.

We rate this statement true.

PENSION REFORM

This change is also referring to the aforementioned 2011 biennial budget, which passed 123-19 in the House and 29-5 in the Senate.

That had a package of reforms to the pension system for state employees. In a Truth Test earlier this year, we found that the pension reform was projected to shave nearly $1.7 billion off the state's obligations through 2028 by instituting a three-year freeze on cost-of-living increases and a cap on cost-of-living adjustments, among other changes.

We rate this statement true.

Verdict: Courtney has hitched his wagon to this Legislature's accomplishments, and his first foray into TV so far is mostly good on the truth. The Legislature did make a good number of solidly bipartisan reforms. But he erred on a big one, involving his chamber's vote on reducing MaineCare rolls. Therefore, we have to bring down his truth rating a bit.

We rate this ad mostly true.

Michael Shepherd can be contacted at 621-5632 or at: mshepherd@mainetoday.com

 

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