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Maine Lawmakers to Return to Capitol to Deal with Bonds, Riverview
08/19/2013   Reported By: Mal Leary

Maine Lawmakers will return to the capitol next week for a special session to deal with a bond package for the November ballot. They cold also take up some other looming issues, such as the federal withdrawal of Medicare certification from the Riverview Psychiatric hospital. Mal Leary reports.

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Last week, Gov. Paul LePage walked upstairs at the State House to meet with legislative leaders at their request. The talks broke an impasse over efforts to place a bond package on the November ballot, which supporters say could trigger thousands of construction jobs next summer.

"We have a $100 million infrastructure bond for transportation," says House Speaker Mark Eves, who says economic growth was a topic of discussion at last week's meeting.

"It"s going to fund many of the critical projects that are in our state to repair our crumbling broads and bridges," Eves says. "It's going to put $36 million of investment in our higher education institutions - the University of Maine System, the Community College System. It's really going to put people back to work."

The nearly $150 million borrowing package is targeted to generate additional investments with federal and local government dollars as well as private donations for construction projects at the University of Maine and Community College Systems, and the Maine Maritime Academy. Senate President Justin Alfond says most of the bond projects will generate matching funds.

"We are leveraging money both from state, local and federal dollars in our transportation bond, with some of our other bonds that the voters will vote on," Alfond says. "There is private fundraising happening, I know, at some of our higher education institutions to match."

While borrowing for roads and bridges and higher education facilities are broadly understood by voters, a $14 million proposal aimed at armories may require some voter education. Most armories are state owned, even though they are used by the National Guard, which serves both the state and federal government. But House Minority Leader Ken Fredette says if the voters have the information, he believes they would support the $14 million package.

"What people have done in terms of military sacrifice for individual members, and then families being left behind over the last decade - I think people will look at that and say, 'We want to respond in terms of supporting our military people,'" Fredette says. "So I think at the end of the day, the education process will happen, and I think that bond will be supported by taxpayers."

The armory projects will get federal funds as well - an estimated $15 million for the $14 million state investment, if voters approve the bond package.

While bonds will dominate the session, it's also possible lawmakers will be asked to pass emergency legislation to address concerns raised by federal officials that the Riverview Psychiatric Hospital is not meeting standards. Federal officials at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services had already issued warnings about Riverview twice this year, and they have rejected two plans to improve compliance.

President Alfond says the issue will be discussed Thursday when the Appropriations Committee meets to deal with the bond package.

"There is, you know, some short-term solutions that the commissioner of Health and Human Services is working on," Alfond says. "But we are looking for solutions for the long term. We are looking for solutions that can do together. We don't want to rush to judgment. This is a very complicated situation."

The feds say the state is violating eight separate conditions under the agreement that provides Medicare funding. The state has submitted yet another plan to address the deficiencies at Riverview, but no word yet on whether that plan is acceptable. At risk is about $20 million a year in Medicare payments to Riverview.



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