Just before a scheduled Democratic press conference, Gov. LePage, flanked by Republican lawmakers (left), swooped in with his own message about passage of a bill to pay back a nearly half-a-billion dollar debt owed to Maine hospitals, and expand Medicaid.
His message? Dead on arrival. "I have said all along this bill would receive a veto when it reached my desk," LePage said, "so this letter should be of no surprise."
LePage accused Democrats of tying two unrelated issues together to force what he called "welfare" expansion on Maine people. "The sad part of this veto is the simple fact that all of us have agreed paying our bills is the fiscally responsible thing to do," he said.
Democrats and Republicans do agree that the state should pay its bills owed to hospitals - and they even agree on how to do it. It's a plan that originated with LePage, that uses revenue bonds connected to the state's wholesale liquor contract. So instead of the bill enacted by the Senate, LePage has now filed a governor's bill to pay back the hospitals - no Medicaid expansion attached.
He's ready to move forward with that bill, and says he's directed the state treasurer to prepare those bonds for his signature on an expedited basis. But Democrats aren't holding a funeral for their bill - more like a party.
"What a great day for Maine!" said Senate President Justin Alfond, at a press conference (right) immediately following the governor's. Alfond called the Democrats' bill an historic achievement, saying it was the fiscal and morally repsonsible thing to do.
House Speaker Mark Eves says it benefits both hospitals and the nearly 70,000 Mainers who would get health insurance through Medicaid expansion, 100 percent on the federal goverment's tab for the first three years. "To do one without the other would leave the job half done," he said.
Democrats called on Republicans to revive their bill through a veto override. But so far, Senate Republicans haven't budged. They're concerned that Maine won't be able to afford the Medicaid expansion once federal funding tapers off, which will eventually dip to 90 percent by 2020.
The only compromise on the table is a proposed amendment by Republican Rep. Ken Fredette. He wants to establish a study group to determine the cost of Medicaid expansion. Democrats aren't keen on the idea, calling it a delay tactic.
"I'm not optimistic about studying this issue further," says Democratic Rep. Seth Berry. "I think it's been studied quite enough. I think it's time to act."
When Democratic leaders were asked by reporters whether they're opposed to splitting the issues of hospital payment and Medicaid expansion into separate bills, Sen. Alfond initially sidestepped and said Democrats are committed to fulfilling their promises. When pressed further, Alfond finally conceded: "Anything can happen in the Legislature."
Alfond says next Tuesday they'll find out whether Senate Republicans will start the process to override the veto. Depending on what happens, he says, they'll move on to other options.
LePage photo: Patty Wight
Democratic press conference photo: Susan Sharon