November 16, 2018
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Mills’ office opposes LePage in Medicaid expansion court fight that will drag past Election Day

Robert F. Bukaty | AP
Robert F. Bukaty | AP
Supporters of Medicaid expansion celebrate their victory, Tuesday, Nov. 7, 2017, in Portland, Maine.

Good morning from Augusta, where Gov. Paul LePage and Attorney General Janet Mills’ office are officially on opposite sides of yet another court fight — the one over Medicaid expansion, with the next courtroom arguments set for the day after Election Day.

By then, Mills could be the governor-elect or the lame-duck attorney general, a position that other Democrats will circle around if she loses the race to replace LePage on Nov. 6. The tenor of the ongoing debate over expanding Medicaid to 70,000 Mainers will hinge on that outcome.

The case may or may not be resolved by the time the Republican governor leaves office, since Maine courts haven’t yet answered the core legal questions at the center of the dispute between LePage and advocates for expansion, the latter of whom are now buttressed by Mills’ office, though the attorney general has said she has recused herself from the case.

Mills already declined to represent LePage in the lawsuit. Here’s where they disagree. Maine’s high court ordered the Department of Health and Human Services in August to submit a simple plan for voter-approved expansion to the federal government. Mills declined to represent the LePage administration in the suit in May.

But that decision isn’t likely to have a practical effect until the courts deal with those core questions. They include whether the state can implement the law without a dedicated appropriation from the Legislature and the effective date of expanded coverage under the law.

Advocates — led by the progressive Maine Equal Justice Partners — have pointed to testimony from the Legislature’s fiscal office, which said existing Medicaid money could fund expansion from July 2018 through May 2019 before running out and requiring a stopgap budget. Lawyers for the LePage administration hold that dedicated funding is necessary.

In her brief for Mills’ office, Chief Deputy Attorney General Linda Pistner backed the advocates, saying the courts can order the state to implement the law because “the possibility of a future shortfall” in the program is “not the Commissioner’s job to fix” with the Legislature holding the power to appropriate money.

LePage administration lawyer Patrick Strawbridge argued that the court can’t order it implemented without a dedicated appropriation, saying that doing so “would be disastrous as a matter of prudent fiscal management.”

The 2017 referendum set that effective date of coverage for July 2. Pistner said that should remain as the effective date. Strawbridge countered by saying expansion can’t move forward without an approved state plan and if coverage is backdated, it would go back to mid-August.

The case has been technical so far, but it’s getting more substantive. Maine Superior Court Justice Michaela Murphy will hold the next round of arguments on these issues in the case on Nov. 7, the day after the election between Mills, Republican Shawn Moody and two independents — State Treasurer Terry Hayes and consultant Alan Caron. Whatever the outcome, it’s likely to go back to the Maine Supreme Judicial Court.

Mills, Hayes and Caron back expansion while Moody has opposed it. However, the Republican has said during recent debates that he would implement the law with a sustainable funding mechanism. The court case could take that out of his hands — at least a bit.


Candidates for governor debate in Bangor

Maine’s candidates for governor aren’t breaking any new ground as their statewide debate tour continues. With fewer than two weeks until Election Day, candidates have said pretty much all they’re going to say. Such was the case Tuesday at a televised debate in Bangor hosted by WVII and WFVX-TV.

Mills, Moody, Hayes and Caron offered no new revelations on policy or principles. Instead, they focused on reinforcing previously voiced positions on health care, marijuana, and the proposed Central Maine Power transmission line in western Maine, which all four have said they oppose. Such message reinforcement is expected at this phase in the campaign cycle, where the number of debates attended by all four candidates is approaching double digits.

Though no surprising new positions are likely to be revealed in the next 13 days, keep an eye out for how the candidates try to distinguish themselves from one another in terms of branding and character. Moody, in particular, has branded himself with the local business owner, Augusta outsider status, but he was more deliberate in pursuing that distinction last night.

“Look, I’m an outsider, I’m a businessman,” he said. “I don’t think like a politician, I don’t have the pedigree of a politician. Now is not the time to turn Augusta back over to the politicians.” And in an oft-used phrase, he tied the two together. “Some people say you can’t run a state like I business. We can’t afford not to.”

Mills and Hayes gently poked at Moody’s outsider narrative by emphasizing their government experience.

“This is not an entry-level position,” Hayes said. “I am a politician. I am proud of that experience. I think that experience matters.”

For people who have followed the campaigns since Labor Day or before, these are not new takes. But with many voters just starting to pay attention, the candidates continue to repeat their core messages in hopes that those undecideds could swing the election their way.

The candidates are due to debate again at 7 p.m. Thursday from the University of Maine at Augusta. That debate will be aired by WMTW, WABI and WAGM. A final televised debate, in which the BDN will participate, is scheduled for 7 p.m. Nov. 1 on WGME.


Reading list

— Transgender people from Maine reacted angrily to federal changes that could limit their civil rights. Advocates and transgender Mainers on Tuesday vowed to fight President Donald Trump’s administration’s efforts to change the definition of gender to either male or female, unchangeable, as determined by the genitalia with which a person is born. The Trump administration’s new definition would affect how the Office of Civil Rights oversees Title IX’s prohibition on sex discrimination in educational programs receiving federal assistance, The Sunlight Foundation reported. Other civil rights protections for transgender people also are in jeopardy. A representative of the ACLU of Maine called the proposals “hateful,” and prominent transgender people with Maine connections such as Nicole Maines and Jennifer Finney Boylan decried the administration’s actions.

— On average, Maine women still make less than their male counterparts. A study by the American Association of University Women concluded that Maine women earn about 82 cents for every $1 that men in the state earn. That translates to a man making $49,476 full time annually and a woman making $40,618, according to the study, which ranks Maine 16th nationally for pay equity.

— A shuttered Maine paper mill could become a maritime training center for more than 2,000 people. Maine Maritime Academy officials are negotiating to buy a two-story brick building at the former Verso paper mill site in Bucksport to convert into the Center for Professional Mariner Development. Planned as an annex to the school’s campus in Castine, the center would train academy students; help mariners maintain required certifications; and train firefighters, offshore wind and oil-rig workers in fire safety and water rescue.

— Students in one Maine school district won’t escape classwork on some snow days. School officials in the Five Town Community School District and School Administration District 28 in Knox County will test a pilot project this year that replaces two snow days with what administrators are calling “remote school days.” Instead of frolicking in the snow when winter weather makes roads unsafe for school bus travel, students will be expected to complete assigned work online or work on projects that would be due when they return to their classrooms.


The new ‘It’ city

Imagine my delight and amusement when I read Tuesday that Worcester, Massachusetts, is America’s hot new place to live and work. Maine Public called it “the new ‘it’ town.”

I grew up just outside Worcester. My four siblings were born there. My family worked, shopped, got arrested — well, just two of us — and otherwise immersed ourselves in the city’s culture. But it was always, at best, a culture defined by being second-class.

When I was a kid, Worcester grappled with Springfield for bragging rights as the second most populous city in Massachusetts. That title essentially only conveyed the opportunity to be immediately inferior to Boston, When Worcester pulled clearly ahead, Springfield got the Basketball Hall of Fame, a way better consolation prize than the Galleria, a tacky mall with a glass roof that was somehow supposed to make shoppers feel as if they were in Milan when they bought pot leaf earrings and faux crystal ashtrays. It went bankrupt and was torn down, but only after destroying a mess of local businesses.

That added to Worcester’s feeling of inferiority, which is similar to the downtrodden sense of community shared in other sagging cities where industry collapsed. Worcester existed to make people who go to college in places like Lewiston — me, for instance — feel as if they were moving up in the world. The city is known for tragic fires, failed urban renewal efforts, rivers that dry up after being horribly polluted and defunct sports teams. And we named one of those teams after a natural disaster that flattened wide swaths of the city.

Keeping the bar low, the city’s new positive nickname is Wormtown. Its travails have given comedian Denis Leary enough material for a successful career built mostly on hometown snark.

So as a former son of Wormtown, I am thrilled to watch its latest revival from afar and almost proud to note that outfits as prestigious as Maine Public are recognizing its latest show of potential. But I do offer this cautionary note from my nephew, who still lives in Worcester. He suggested that the reason Worcester is the new “It” town has more to do with what lives in its sewers than anything that inhabits the fancy new downtown apartments. Here is a “don’t play it at work” soundtrack that reflects the true spirit of Worcester. And here is a soundtrack that reflects its new spirit. — Robert Long

Today’s Daily Brief was written by Michael Shepherd, Alex Acquisto and Robert Long. If you’re reading this on the BDN’s website or were forwarded it, click here to receive Maine’s leading newsletter on state politics via email on weekday mornings. Click here to subscribe to the BDN.

To reach us, do not reply directly to this newsletter, but email us directly at aacquisto@bangordailynews.com, mshepherd@bangordailynews.com or rlong@bangordailynews.com.


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