AUGUSTA, Maine — Apparently not content with the numerous battles he’s already fighting with Maine Attorney General Janet Mills, Gov. Paul LePage announced Thursday that he’ll submit a bill aimed at curtailing the attorney general’s authority to receive and spend money from lawsuit settlements.
As part of multi-state lawsuit against the credit ratings firm Standard & Poor’s, Maine recently received the largest one-time settlement in its history, worth $21.5 million.
Mills, a Democrat, said that, per the terms of the settlement, the state will use its share of the money for consumer protection and education efforts, including initiatives aimed at helping homeowners facing foreclosure stay in their homes. She told the BDN that authority on how to spend the money would rest in the attorney general’s office.
In a letter to legislative leaders, LePage said he doesn’t believe the attorney general should get to make decisions about how the state’s money is spent.
“Not only does her action overstep her authority, but it is also repugnant to the constitution,” LePage wrote. “As you well know, the constitution clearly asserts that the power to appropriate revenue is held exclusively by the Legislature and checked by the executive.”
Tim Feeley, a spokesman for Mills, said the S&P settlement specifically states that the attorney general will have discretion to determine how the money is used, as long as it follows the rules in the agreement.
“The disbursement of settlement funds is governed by court order,” Feeley said. “It is the settlement of a court case, not the appropriation of tax dollars. Language giving the attorney general discretion is common in consumer protection settlements in this and other states.”
Feeley noted that Republican Attorney General William Schneider, who served during LePage’s first two years as governor in 2011 and 2012, also used the authority to direct settlement money. LePage did not oppose Schneider.
LePage is already battling Mills on several fronts: In the Maine Supreme Judicial Court, he’s challenging her authority to control state litigation — even when she and the governor disagree. In the Legislature, he announced his intention to make the attorney general a popularly elected position, a move Mills opposes.
Follow Mario Moretto on Twitter at @riocarmine.