In a clear rebuke to Democrats, Republican Gov. Paul LePage issued an executive order Monday to cover the costs of four bills passed into law over his objections in 2016 that he said were unfunded by the Legislature.

Top lawmakers who have resisted LePage’s demand that they call a special session of the Legislature to fund the bills have said the measures were indeed funded – but not with the sources LePage wanted to use.

Monday’s executive order uses surplus funds from other state accounts – some that have been previous targets of LePage budget reforms that were rejected by the Legislature. They include programs that help provide prescription drugs to elderly Mainers and ones that use some of the state’s federal tobacco settlement funds for smoking cessation programs and Meals on Wheels programs.

The order could also lead to a hiring freeze at the state’s mental health institutions.

“Unfortunately, the Legislature’s lack of fiscal management is going to place unnecessary strain on various programs and salary negotiating processes within the executive branch,” LePage said in a prepared statement. “We are going to do our best to mitigate the impacts of this unfunded legislation with available resources.

“Maine law demands that the budget be balanced. Since Democratic leadership refuses to fund these bills, I have taken action by issuing an executive order to ensure government is being funded in a fiscally responsible manner.”

But Democrats insist the bills, most of which were passed with overwhelming bipartisan support and upheld on veto override votes, are funded.

“These bills have funding that’s been very clearly laid out. He just doesn’t like the funding, so now he’s creating this manufactured crisis and pitting Mainers against Mainers and picking winners and losers and at the end of the day that’s the playbook that Paul LePage has used over and over and it doesn’t make us a stronger state,” said Sen. Justin Alfond, D-Portland.

Alfond, the outgoing Senate minority leader, said he and other leaders were “dismayed” at LePage’s response. Alfond said LePage was again going after programs previously placed on the governor’s “chopping block.”

LePage met with legislative leaders, including Alfond, last Wednesday to ask them to again call themselves back into a special session over the bills, but House Speaker Mark Eves, D-North Berwick, refused and later said the Legislature had done its job and LePage now needed to administer the laws as they were enacted.

The legislation in question includes about $2.5 million of funds for county jails in the fiscal year that starts on July 1; a $75,000 needle exchange program aimed at reducing disease among drug addicts; increases in pay for workers at the state’s forensic mental health hospital, the Riverview Psychiatric Center; and a study of reimbursement rates for ambulance services covered under the state’s Medicaid program.

LePage’s executive order directs the state’s Department of Health and Human Services to do a combination of the following to cover the legislation in question:

n Transfer any remaining balances within the Low-Cost Drugs to Maine’s Elderly Program.

n Transfer any funding that can be generated by a redistribution of a Fund for a Healthy Maine.

n Transfer any savings that can be created by actively managing personal services at state mental health institutions, which includes implementing a hiring freeze and other cost-saving measures.

Democratic leaders in the Legislature were reviewing the executive order and were preparing a response for LePage.

Lawmakers intended that one of the laws in question, the ambulance rate study, would be among four studies authorized under an ongoing contract between DHHS and the private consultant Burns and Associates.

But LePage has called the new laws “unfunded mandates.” In his message announcing the executive order’s effective date of June 30, LePage also reminds lawmakers they have the authority to reconvene and change the funding sources.

LePage could also use his executive powers to call the Legislature back into session, but according to a news release from his office, he was reluctant to do so because Eves has said he would call for an immediate adjournment if the governor called lawmakers back to work now.

Eves and Alfond have said a special session is an unnecessary waste of taxpayer funds. If the entire Legislature were to reconvene, it would cost $43,000 the first day and $37,900 each subsequent day lawmakers remain in session.

“This entire process of threatening to call an unnecessary special session at a cost of thousands of dollars to Mainers and then issuing an Executive Order stripping funding from programs he doesn’t like is another example of the governor creating election-year turmoil to accomplish what he couldn’t in the Legislature,” Eves said in a statement Monday.

Scott Thistle can be contacted at 791-6330 or at:

[email protected]

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