AUGUSTA, Maine — If Eliot Cutler were governor today, the state’s Medicaid system would cover 70,000 more people. If Mike Michaud were governor, the state’s minimum wage would be going up.
Bills aimed at passing those things into law were vetoed by Maine’s Republican Gov. Paul LePage.
LePage vetoed a record 82 bills, of which lawmakers could muster the votes to override only four.
Not surprisingly, Cutler, an independent and Michaud, a Democrat, said they would have done things differently.
To find out how differently, the Sun Journal asked the top two candidates challenging LePage in the 2014 election to review some of the bills he vetoed and to say what they would have done differently.
Both said they would have worked more collaboratively with the Legislature to fix problems in the legislation before the measures reached their desks.
“It’s not a very good working relationship the governor has with the Legislature or even his own party,” Michaud said. “He marked up some of those bills that went through unanimously and some that passed with strong bipartisan support. It clearly shows that he’s unwilling to work with them.”
Cutler said asking him about a list of LePage vetoes was like asking someone to comment on a train wreck.
“You know, there’s a train wreck and then you ask somebody, ‘Do you oppose it or support it?’” Cutler said.
He added, “A lot of these bills ended up being vetoed because of a failure of leadership, on both sides, both the governor and the Legislature, and a failure of engagement on both sides but in particular by the governor.”
Cutler also said LePage vetoed many bills because they were not funded by the Legislature.
“I have a lot of sympathy with his concern about the Legislature, taking action without any sufficient acknowledgement of the budgetary consequences of what they want to do,” Cutler said.
Here’s a sampling of how Michaud and Cutler would have reacted to some of the bills LePage vetoed.
Both candidates would have signed into law the bills that would have expanded Maine’s Medicaid system under new provisions in the federal Affordable Care Act.
In his veto message, LePage said that despite federal funding for the expansion, Maine taxpayers would eventually be left on the hook to cover the costs of ever-expanding “welfare rolls.”
“Every citizen in the state of Maine should have access to primary and secondary preventative health care — universal access,” Cutler said. “Accepting as a given a health care system that is designed around the needs of health insurance companies and hospitals is wrong. ”
Michaud said the bill, LD 1066, was structured to include an automatic review of future costs to the state and was an “excellent compromise” that he too would have signed.
“Because of the enhanced reimbursement rates under the ACA, Maine actually saves money,” Michaud said. “It’s estimated to be $600 million over a 10-year time frame. Hospitals will get an additional $348 million because of that enhanced rate, which I think is extremely important.”
Also important to Michaud was that 3,000 Maine veterans would have been among the 70,000 who would have been eligible for health care coverage under the expansion.
Both said they would have signed a bill, LD 611, that raised the minimum wage from $7.50 an hour to $9 an hour by 2016. The measure also hitched the minimum wage to inflation, including automatic cost-of-living increases.
“We must create the environment for well-paying careers to give hard-working families an opportunity to succeed,” LePage wrote in his veto message. “Mainers deserve more than the minimum and if we give them the opportunity, they’ll earn it.”
Cutler said he would have “worked like hell” to make a minimum-wage increase part of a broader economic development plan.
“I’ve said over and over again, I wouldn’t have introduced a bill that did nothing but increase the minimum wage,” Cutler said. “I would have made that part of a much bigger package, but had it come to my desk I would have signed it because the minimum wage right now is not a living wage and it’s too far below a living wage.”
Michaud said increasing the minimum wage wouldn’t kill jobs as opponents to the increase predicted.
“If the price of staples like bread, milk and gas go up, wages should as well,” Michaud said. “Most businesses pay the minimum wage or higher. I think people should have a livable wage. We’ve increased the minimum wage in the past and it did not have a negative effect on the economy. My preference, of course, would be to really focus on trying to attract businesses that pay good wages here in Maine.”
Cutler and Michaud said they would have signed LD 405, which would have allowed cities and towns to increase the fee paid on a vehicle registration renewal from $3 to $5 and to increase the fee on a new registration from $4 to $6.
“The problems we face in Maine do not stem from a lack of government taking money from its citizens,” LePage wrote in his veto message.
Michaud said the bill was an attempt to correct a bad habit of pushing costs and responsibilities onto municipal government. “The fee would have taken some pressure off of property taxpayers who are currently subsidizing the work done at town hall to carry out these duties.”
Cutler said LePage has been increasing the burden on municipal governments “right and left without funding them.” He said the fee had not increased since 1991 and that LePage’s veto was “wholly, completely inconsistent with everything he says about burden-sharing and unfunded mandates.”
Cutler added, “LePage is trying to kill government, not fix it.”
“Those who commit terrible crimes with firearms are one of two things: mentally ill or criminal,” LePage wrote in his veto message on LD 1240, a bill that would have allowed a civil fine to be levied against those who sell guns privately without first checking the background of the buyer. “No amount of laws will change that behavior,” LePage wrote.
He also criticized a bill that would have applied the fine to gun transfers between family members.
Michaud and Cutler said they would have signed the measure into law.
“I support stronger background checks and believe this bill was a move in the right direction,” Michaud said. However, he said, such legislation should take special care to “ensure that we don’t impose unnecessary bureaucracy on two brothers swapping guns or a transaction between a father and son.”
Cutler said gun ownership and use is an important part of Maine culture and its economy and he understands and supports the Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms.
“But none of that means you can’t have legitimate, universal background checks so we keep guns out of the hands of people who shouldn’t have them,” Cutler said. “Everyone agrees that there are groups of people who should not have access to firearms, and there is no way of achieving that objective without having universal background checks.”
Cutler said he agreed with LePage’s veto of LD 890, a bill that would have required the state to buy American-made building materials for construction projects and would have created a preference for American products in the state’s procurement system of other items.
In his veto message, LePage said the bill was in direct conflict with other legislation that was aimed at promoting cross-border trade with Canada and created too restrictive a burden on a state budget that his administration was working hard to control.
“When spending taxpayer dollars, the state should look to ensure we get the best possible deal and that includes dividends earned by spending money at home,” LePage wrote.
Cutler said he was sympathetic to the idea that preference be given to American-made products, but that preference ought to be “responsible and rational.”
“What this bill did was a mistake,” Cutler said. “It failed to establish the margin by which the cost of American-made products could exceed competitive products before the ‘buy-American’ provision was moot.” He said other states that have enacted similar laws included those types of checks.
Michaud said he would have signed the bill into law.
“I’ve always been a strong supporter of buying American,” Michaud said. “It’s my firm belief that the more products that are made in America, the easier it will be for people to make it in America.”