AUGUSTA, Maine — Republican Gov. Paul LePage said Friday he won’t release $4.9 million that lawmakers budgeted for Democratic Attorney General and gubernatorial candidate Janet Mills’ office until she provides him legal bills that are as detailed as those of private law firms.
In an Aug. 30 letter to Mills’ office, LePage’s finance chief Alec Porteous said the governor has directed him to withhold payments to Mills’ office for legal services provided to state agencies. LePage told The Associated Press on Friday that he’ll keep doing so until she sends him invoices that describe what her office is working on and include “hours and charges” like private law firms do.
“I need to know that they’re actually working for the state,” said the governor, who has called on Mills and independent state treasurer Terry Hayes to resign while they run to succeed him. LePage is term-limited from running this November. His term ends in early 2019.
Porteous said it would be “regrettable” for the matter to go to courts, as Mills’ office warned in an Aug. 24 letter.
Mills’ office didn’t say how long the agency can go without getting paid, but Mills said the hold-up jeopardizes travel reimbursements, court fees and rent payments that could impact attorneys who travel the state for child protective cases. Mills’ office provided AP with legal bills and invoices sent to state agencies that describe ongoing legal tasks and show how many hours staff members worked on various issues such as child support.
“We have been trying to discuss the matter with the governor’s office and explain why his request is unreasonable and not in accordance with the law,” Mills said Thursday.
Her administrative services chief Kirsten Figueroa said the governor’s request for billing in 10 or 15-minute increments is “costly” and said state agencies haven’t complained about the legal billing. Mills’ salaried employees don’t use timesheets, unlike private law firms that Mills said aim to make profits.
Mills and LePage have long been at odds, partly because Mills at times declines to represent him in lawsuits. A 1989 Maine court opinion says she can do so to protect the public interest.
Republican Senate President Mike Thibodeau’s spokesman said lawmakers appropriated the money, and the matter is now between the governor and attorney general’s office. Democratic House Speaker Sara Gideon referred comment to Democratic Rep. Drew Gattine, who said it’s unclear whether lawmakers can do anything about the matter when they return Thursday.
“You shouldn’t have to threaten to sue the governor to get him to do his job,” Gattine said.
In Maine, the attorney general provides state agencies with legal services and then bills the agencies. The average hourly rate is $64.59 for staff assigned to health and human services issues, according to Figeuroa.
The LePage administration hasn’t responded to multiple requests for additional details, including when the administration began withholding payments to Mills’ office. The governor has been criticizing Mills’ billing practices since last December, and threatened to withhold payments in May.
The governor has often denied or delayed other routine paperwork concerning Mills.
A legislative committee this year killed Mills’ bill that would have ended a requirement for LePage to approve financial orders allowing Mills to bring on new attorneys. Out of two dozen financial orders obtained by The AP that the governor has denied since mid-2014, LePage has often rejected financial orders submitted by Mills and former Public Advocate Tim Schneider, whom LePage asked to resign.
LePage this year held up more than $1 million in public campaign funds by denying financial orders. He released the money after a court order ordered him to do so.
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