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LePage Veto Threat Ignites Partisan Firestorm in Augusta
03/01/2013   Reported By: Jay Field

Gov. Paul LePage says he will veto all bills that cross his desk unless the Democratic-controlled Legislature signs onto his plan to pay off $484 million in Medicaid debts owed to Maine hospitals. But Democrats are dismissing LePage's veto threat, made during a morning interview on a Bangor radio station, as political gamesmanship. Jay Field reports.

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Gov. LePage says renegotiating the state's wholesale liquor contract - and using the proceeds to repay the hospitals - will create jobs and boost Maine's overall economy.

LePage first proposed the idea back in January. But since then, the governor has grown more and more irritated. Democrats, he says, have moved quickly on other, less important bills and put his proposal on the back burner.

"On St. Paddy's Day, we can open bars at 6:00 a.m. to 9:00 a.m. on a Sunday, and that's more important than paying the hospitals, than I think we have a problem," the governor said in an appearance on the George Hale - Ric Tyler Show on WVOM Radio Friday morning in Bangor, where he issued the following threat:

Gov. LePage: "Until they move forward on that, I'm not moving forward on any legislation," he said.

Radio host: "Nothing at all?"

Gov. LePage: "Nothing. And I don't care if it's my bills. I'll veto my own bills."

By mid-morning, word of LePage's threat had gotten out. Democrats dismissed it as a form of political gamesmanship that doesn't belong in Maine. The governor, though, wasn't backing down. He met reporters in a hallway at the Samoset Resort in Rockport, after a brief stop at the annual Fishermen's Forum.

"We have kids going to school in the state of Maine and their birth bill hasn't been paid yet," he said. "So we just need to pay the hospitals. It's high time."

The next bill I sign, LePage reitierated, will be the hospital bill. "And if they're not willing to bring it to me fast, why don't they just close the session, go home, spend time with their kids and we'll see you next January? Thank you."

Back at the State House, Democrats called a news conference to respond. Senate Majority Leader Seth Goodall says the governor's remarks are unfortunate, given that legislative committees have had several productive weeks.

"The committees have been passing legislation out unanimously. And they're going through both bodies, unanimously. And those bills will quickly be landing on the governor's desk," Goodall says. "If he chooses to veto those bills, it's just an indication that he doesn't want any progress. He wants to have government stand still, and, as he said, shut it down."

Goodall says Republicans in the state Legislature have directly - and indirectly - been threatening to shut the goverment down for a while now. But GOP leaders moved quickly to dispel this suggestion, at their own hastily-called news conference. Here's Kenneth Fredette.

"As the Republican leader of the Maine House of Representatives, I am committed to maintaining the normal operation of the Maine Legislature, it's committee process, voting process and other duties," said Rep. Ken Fredette, a Newport Republican. "The normal operation of our state will continue to move forward under my leadership."

Fredette then criticized the Democrats for not giving the governor's hospital repayment plan a fair hearing. Seth Goodall says his party wants to reimburse the hospitals too, but doesn't think any effort to do so should be intertwined with the renegotiation of the state's liquor contract.

"We believe that that ought to be a separate conversation. And we've got to get the liquor contract right in the first place," Goodall says. "There's a lot of opportunity there - hundreds of millions of dollars to pay our bills, including the hospitals."

Goodall has proposed a competing measure: It puts the state's liquor contract out to bid, directs profits back to the state, but doesn't mandate that the money be used to repay hospital's Medicaid debt.

The future of Goodall's measure, and scores of other bills before the Legislature, though, now depends on whether Gov. LePage follows through on his threat and begins giving his veto pen a workout.


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