AUGUSTA — Members of the depleted Maine Board of Corrections appealed to state lawmakers Tuesday for a $2.5 million emergency spending bill they say is needed to avoid furloughing inmates.

However, the board would not be able to spend the money because Gov. Paul LePage has refused to appoint enough members to provide a quorum, according to the board’s outgoing executive director.

The governor has said he has no intention of nominating members to a board that he views as ineffective and unaccountable.

The board has five seats but only two are currently filled.

Lawmakers from both parties criticized the governor for his stand Tuesday, and members of the criminal justice and budget writing committees briefly discussed changing the law to allow the Legislature to appoint corrections board members. Only the governor is authorized to make appointments now.

Rep. John Martin, D-Eagle Lake, said he has told jail administrators in Aroostook County that if LePage won’t appoint board members then they should consider throwing inmates “out of jail, put them on the streets. … When the crisis occurs and you have 50 prisoners running around, somebody might just become concerned.”


After questioning Ryan Thornell, outgoing director of the Board of Corrections, Rep. Robert Nutting, R-Oakland, said the governor has hamstrung the board.

“That just seems unacceptable by the executive, but that’s just me,” Nutting said.

Adrienne Bennett, the governor’s spokeswoman, said the governor has made it clear that he won’t appoint any new board members until lawmakers and corrections officials form a plan to overhaul an inefficient county jail system.

In 2008, the Legislature and Democratic Gov. John Baldacci authorized a consolidation bill that divided funding for jail operations between county property taxes and the state. The county funding was capped at 2009 levels, while the state would pay for budget increases. Local taxpayers still pay for most of the jail operations, $62 million per year.

LePage has said the consolidation plan is a failure, citing repeated supplemental budget requests as evidence that splitting control over the jails is not working. He said last week that either the state or the counties should take charge of jail operations.

“I will not take good money, good taxpayer money, and throw it after bad money. That system is made to fail. It cannot work,” he said last week. “You get the operators of the jails to make all of the decisions and then you send the bill to the governor.”


LePage said last week that whoever is covering the cost of operating the jails should be in charge of running them, and that the current system has wasted money.

Bennett reiterated that point Tuesday.

“The Legislature has the authority to restructure the system,” Bennett said. “It just seems like the Legislature wants to pass the buck on this issue. The governor has made it clear that he won’t support the current system and he won’t nominate board members until it’s changed.”

Thornell told lawmakers Tuesday that five jails, including Cumberland County’s, will run out of operating funds before the close of the fiscal year June 30. Cumberland County, he noted in written testimony, needs $596,000 to continue operations. Aroostook County needs $782,000; Penobscot, $563,00; York, $396,000; and Androscoggin, $151,000.

Thornell defended the board’s oversight of the jail system. He noted that revenues and expenditures were on target in the fiscal year that ended June 30 of last year. However, a spike in pre-trial inmates held at some jails and a decrease in revenue from holding state and federal prisoners has blown a hole in the overall budget since then. In some instances, he said, the board reallocated funding from county jails that were under budget to those that were struggling financially.

Thornell also said that consolidation had saved more than $287 million in property taxes since fiscal year 2010.


Some lawmakers questioned why the jail system is still facing problems, and board members said the unfilled seats are one reason.

Joel Merry, one of two remaining members of the voting board, said the panel has a slate of changes “a half-inch thick” but has been unable to implement them without a quorum.

Thornell said that while lawmakers gave more authority – and $1.2 million in additional funding – to the board in 2014, that can be undercut by just one noncompliant county.

“At end of day, no matter what strength you give the board of corrections, if a county refuses to implement one of the rules, you end up in a courtroom,” he said. In some instances, county jails have argued over the cost of housing inmates from other facilities, for example.

How the current standoff with Gov. LePage might be resolved is unclear. Several members of the committee discussed changing the law to allow the Legislature to appoint the remaining members to the five-member board. However, the governor would likely veto such a change, meaning two-thirds of the Republican-controlled Senate and the Democrat-controlled House would have to vote to override.

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

[email protected]

Twitter: @stevemistler

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