It’s been relatively placid at the State House. Democratic lawmakers aren’t blasting Gov. Paul LePage and the governor has refrained from barbs against liberals. After all, he might need a few of them if he wants to pass his budget.

But the armies for both sides are marching.

The governor’s town hall meeting in Westbrook ended with chants from liberal activists, presumably from the Maine People’s Alliance, criticizing LePage for not addressing his General Assistance overhaul (Unlike the Battle of Big Checks, the MPA protests didn’t begin until after the event).

Meanwhile, LePage’s allies, mostly quiet since the budget unveiling January 9, are transitioning to offense to repel opposition to the governor’s two-year budget. Last week, the Maine Heritage Policy Center initiated a steady stream of attacks following a column criticizing Portland’s management of its General Assistance program. The Maine Republican Party and its former communications director, now employed by the Department of Health and Human Services, heavily promoted the column. The party has since moved to scrutinize what it views as fat in the Portland city budget.

Then, on Wednesday, the policy center’s blogging arm  took aim at the Maine Hospital Association, declaring that the organization representing Maine’s hospitals is living high on the hog while its member hospitals are scratching out a living. The piece published the salaries of association officers, including Jeff Austin, the lobbyist who described LePage’s plan to tax nonprofits as a “sick tax.” (Update: The story has since been pulled from the policy center’s site. Not sure why.)

Asked to respond to the policy center post, Austin emailed, “No thank you.”

The hospital group may not want to engage LePage’s allies in the media, but it won’t be long before hospitals and the administration square off. The nonprofit tax isn’t the only thing upsetting the hospitals. There’s also a matter of reimbursement rates. The hospitals argue that they accepted rate reductions during lean budget times and there’s no reason to absorb such cuts now that DHHS and commissioner Mary Mayhew are boasting about a deficit-free budget.

The great irony here is that LePage and the hospitals were simpatico not too long ago. LePage used the state’s Medicaid reimbursement debt to great effect on the campaign trail in 2010 and again in 2014, after he and the Legislature paid it down. At the time there was a lot talk that the hospitals were cushy with the administration, especially because Mayhew is a former lobbyist for the hospital group.

If that relationship ever really existed, it now looks like one of political convenience.

Book tax, social tax

First the nonprofit tax focused on hospitals and private colleges. Then it moved to land trusts. Then summer camps.

Next up: Libraries and social clubs.

As word spreads about the nonprofit tax, more organizations are growing concerned that they’ll get hit. On Wednesday, Robert Drisko, the government relations officer for the Maine Elks Association, told the Press Herald that the state’s 22 Elks clubs could be in jeopardy.

“We are a nonprofit fraternal organization finding ourselves struggling to survive,” wrote Drisko, adding that the governor’s budget, as presented, could very well be the “final nail in our coffin.”

The Press Herald also heard from the Maine Library Association. While some libraries are part of municipal government and therefore not subject to property taxes, some have land and building assets controlled by nonprofit organizations. Such is the case for the Gardiner Library. The library is a public library, but according to Anne Davis, of the library association, the facility and grounds are owned by the Gardiner Library Association.

“We are assessed at over $1M and should we have to pay property taxes, we would have to make severe cuts to an already depleted municipal budget,” Davis wrote. ” This is true for large libraries like Bangor Public Library as well as many small libraries throughout the state.”


It’s another session day so more bill will be referenced to committee in the morning with hearings and work sessions in the afternoon.

Lots of activity in Appropriations and Financial Affairs as the array of supplemental budget bills are scheduled for hearings. As we learned Tuesday and again Wednesday, the printed bills have become a Trojan horse for surprises.

Stay tuned.