Sunday, May 19, 2013
By Steve Mistler firstname.lastname@example.org
State House Bureau
Republican Gov. Paul LePage and top Democratic lawmakers have found common ground on such key issues as debt payments to hospitals and Medicaid expansion. However, the progress made Monday apparently wasn't enough for the governor to lift his veto decree.
A half-dozen bills lawmakers passed last week remained on LePage's desk Tuesday, awaiting action.
LePage was not available for comment, but Adrienne Bennett, his spokeswoman, said the governor had not changed his position on vetoing legislation or allowing some bills to go unsigned.
"We're not there yet," Bennett said. "However, it appears that the Democrats are moving closer to something that looks a lot like the governor's bill (to pay the hospital debt)."
Bennett also said the governor was no closer to issuing $105 million in voter-approved bonds.
Political tensions were ratcheted upward nearly two weeks ago when LePage vowed to veto every bill until the Democratic-controlled Legislature endorsed his plan to repay $484 million in outstanding Medicaid reimbursement to the state's 39 hospitals.
The governor also refused to release the bonds, which require borrowing but already have been approved by Maine voters at referendum, until the state paid the hospitals.
Voters approved three bond issues totaling $64 million in November, on top of another $40 million approved in 2010. The borrowing was intended to fund a host of transportation, conservation and water and sewer infrastructure projects.
Bennett said the counterproposal released by Democrats Monday, just before a legislative hearing on LePage's hospital plan, wasn't enough to change the governor's position.
Sen. Seth Goodall, D-Richmond, the Senate majority leader, said the two sides took a step in the right direction Monday when Democrats offered a hospital debt plan and LePage indicated he'd be willing to conside expanding Medicaid to more low-income Mainers.
Both parties appeared to be jockeying for credit Tuesday about repaying the hospitals.
The Maine Republican Party issued a release saying the Democrats' hospital plan, in a bill sponsored by Goodall, came up $81 million short. The Maine Democratic Party, meanwhile, circulated an online petition designed to pressure LePage to sign the voter-approved bonds.
There are significant differences between the governor's and Democrats' pay-back proposals. However, both plans have the same result: Make the hospitals whole -- and happy.
It's also in both parties' interest to settle the debt. Gordon Smith, the lead lobbyist for the Maine Medical Association, recently described the debt as an "albatross" for state lawmakers.
Along with the posturing, leaders of both parties signaled a willingness to compromise on the hospital plan. Rep. Kennetth Fredette, R-Newport, said during a radio interview that he was confident a consensus could be reached.
Goodall, the Senate Democrat, went a step further, saying he wasn't averse to a "hybrid" plan that would merge his proposal and the governor's.
"I look forward to sitting down with his staff, and hopefully him (LePage), on the solving this issue," he said. "We both share the same goal. We need to pay off the hospitals."
Steve Mistler -- 620-7016