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LePage Supporters Launch Ad Campaign Attacking Former Gov. Baldacci
04/04/2013   Reported By: A.J. Higgins

A political group backing Republican Gov. Paul LePage is launching an ad campaign to build support for his plan to repay hospital debt with a revenue bond funded by state liquor sales. But the ad also takes some fairly pointed shots at former Democratic Gov. John Baldacci, a potential rival in the 2014 governor's race. A.J. Higgins has more.

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As legislators are preparing to take up a plan to repay $484 million in state Medicaid debt to Maine hospitals, the Maine People Before Politics group is releasing an ad urging Mainers to contact lawmakers in support of the strategy. The pro-LePage group that's funding the message is also using the ad to assign blame for the state's financial problems to the previous occupant of the Blaine House.

"Walking out, Baldacci's team left hundreds of millions of dollars of welfare debt through unpaid hospital bills, causing layoffs, threatening care for seniors and families," the ad says.

By contrast, the ad agrues that Gov. LePage has the solution. "Newspapers support the governor's plan. Tell your legislators: Pass Gov. LePage's common sense plan now. It's time to pay the hospitals in full. No more IOU's," the ad's narrator says.

If all of this sounds a bit like a campaign message, Democrats say that's because it is. "And the governor seems to be kicking off his campaign for reelection prematurely," says House Speaker Mark Eves.

Eves says it's disappointing that LePage has injected politics into the current legislative discussion over the hospital debt.

"Wel,l we have made a commitment as Democrats to pay the hospitals, and that's going to happen this session," Eves said. "We've done that, so that is off the table. So the timing of these campaign-style ads is, again, unfortunate. We're here to govern, not to campaign."

LePage is raising money for a possible second term as governor, and former Gov. Baldacci has also expressed interest in running 19 months from now. LePage said he knew nothing about the television ad promoting his hospital plan.

Charlie Gaunce, president of the Maine People Before Politics board of directors, issued a statement praising the LePage plan as a "creative and brilliant proposal that pays this welfare debt off in full, without any significant delays, by transparently putting the state's liquor contract out to bid."

Under the plan, the governor would use a portion of the approximately $45 million a year in liquor revenues to obtain a
10-year revenue bond for repaying the state's share of the Medicaid debt, pegged at about $185 million. The federal government would pick up the rest of the bill.

But LePage's plan is only one of several being considered by the Legislature, and the governor has no idea what he will end up with.

"Basically, I'm told that they're going to have a committee put together and decide how they're going to pay the hospitals," LePage said at a noon meeting of the Augusta Kiwanis Club.

LePage made no mention of the ad. But he did use the opportunity to once again reiterate his demand that the hospitals must be paid. The governor told the Kiwanians that every new hospital expansion - such as the new MaineGeneral Medical Center in Augusta - is being paid for by taxpayers, who fund Medicaid.

LePage says many are calling for him to support Mediciad expansion even as current debts continue to grow. "They want me to get on board and do the medical expansion," LePage said. "I owe $484 million because we expanded 10 years ago, if I expand some more we are going to take on more debt, it's that simple. There's no magic formula. It's just, you've got to pay the bill."

Former Gov. John Baldacci issued a statement saying that throughout his eight years in office, he made great advances in paying off hospital debt that had accumulated for years. He said LePage preferred to fight rather than govern.

 

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