A federal judge on Wednesday denied a request from the LePage administration to put a hold on the release of $3 million in workforce development funds pending an appeal.

In his order, U.S. District Court Judge John Woodcock also characterized the appeal’s chance of success as “modest.”

Last year, Gov. Paul LePage refused to release U.S. Department of Labor funds to Coastal Counties Workforce Inc. of Brunswick, a nonprofit that administers federal workforce development and job training programs in southern Maine, unless the group adopted tougher job training requirements. Specifically, the LePage administration had sought to require that 60 percent of federal funds be spent on job training programs, nearly double the current amount.

Coastal Counties Workforce filed a lawsuit, and both sides argued their case in December.

On Jan. 3, Woodcock ordered that the administration release the funds, concluding that failure to do so could cause “irreparable harm” to Coastal Counties Workforce. Woodcock ordered attorneys for the two sides to confer on the specifics of getting the funds released.

The administration appealed Woodcock’s ruling the following week and also asked for a stay of the funds’ release. He denied the request Wednesday.

“Concluding that the defendants’ likelihood of success on appeal is modest and that the likely harm to CCWI outweighs the likely harm to the defendants, the court denies the defendants’ motion for stay pending appeal,” the judge wrote in his 10-page order.

LePage spokeswoman Julie Rabinowitz said the administration will not comment on pending litigation.

LePage has been fighting unsuccessfully for years to consolidate the state’s three regional workforce boards into a single agency based in Augusta that he contends would spend less on administration and more on training programs. Representatives of the boards counter that individuals using their career centers often require counseling, educational assessment, skills development and other services that fall outside of LePage’s job training definition.

Arguing in the state’s defense during the Dec. 18 hearing, the Maine Attorney General’s Office said the LePage administration is entitled to include tougher job training policies in contracts with the three nonprofits that administer federal workforce funds statewide. But Coastal Counties – which administers the programs in York, Cumberland, Sagadahoc, Lincoln, Knox and Waldo counties – argued that federal law clearly requires governors to release funds within 30 days after they are made available to the state. The nonprofit also contended that LePage wrongly tried to use the contracts to force the regional boards to spend 60 percent of the federal funds on job training.

In his Jan. 3 decision, Woodcock rejected the state’s argument that it could withhold the money as part of the contract.

The judge did not, however, take a position on the administration’s underlying contention that Maine’s workforce board system is an inefficient and bloated bureaucracy.

“To be clear, the court is agnostic as to whether the current WIOA (Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act) model is a better approach or whether a more flexible, centralized model would result in more money being spent for people in need of training,” Woodcock wrote. “The court does not blame (Coastal Counties) for filing this lawsuit to obtain its allocated (federal) funding, nor does it blame Governor Paul LePage and (state Department of Labor) Commissioner John Butera for seeking to make CCWI and the other local areas more accountable, efficient and effective.”

Eric Russell can be contacted at 791-6344 or at:

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